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 Hmong New Year Celebration

Performers from the 2009 Duluth/Twin Ports Hmong New Year celebration. (Photos: Hli Vang)

UMD Helps Duluth Hmong Celebrate Their Culture

The Duluth/Twin Ports Hmong New Year is free and open to the public. It features celebrations with programs showcasing Hmong traditions. On Saturday, Dec. 4 at the First United Methodist Church ("The Coppertop Church"), 230 E. Skyline Parkway, Duluth, doors open at 9 am, a program starts at 11 am, and will be followed by lunch at 12:30 pm. On Sunday, Dec. 5, there will be a social event from 10 am-5 pm at the Copeland Community Center, 28 East Village View Drive, Duluth.

Every year in early December, a celebration occurs in the Duluth-Twin Ports area. Local Hmong come together and celebrate their cultural history during the Hmong New Year.

Duluth citizens, UMD students and staff, and other local colleges are helping to plan the Hmong New Year. Gaoleah Thao, president of the Asian Pacific American Association (APAA), and Hli Vang, director of Asian/Pacific American Student Programs at UMD, took part in the planning committee for this year’s Hmong New Year.

"This is a time for Hmong families in the Duluth/Twin Ports area to get together and socialize, catch up, and embrace their culture while celebrating the end of a wonderful year and the beginning of a new one," Thao said.

The Duluth/Twin Ports Hmong New Year is a free event. Local Hmong families are joined by students, faculty and staff from Duluth Public Schools and surrounding universities, and other members in the community. A few local politicians have also promised to attend including Minnesota State Representative Roger Reinert and Wisconsin State Senator Bob Jauch.

Vang encourages everyone to attend the event no matter what their cultural background is. "In learning about other cultures, people can reflect on their own and help with the development process as a person," Vang said. "The event creates a cultural competence in the community and provides knowledge of other cultural traditions."

Hmong in Minnesota

The Hmong are an Asian ethnic group originating from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. They fought for the U.S. during the Vietnam War, but nearly half of the pre-war Hmong population in Laos died during the war. As a result, many Hmong immigrated to the United States.

Out of the roughly 300,000 Hmong people living in the United States, Minnesota has one the largest population in the country, around 80,000. Roughly 80 percent of Minnesota Hmong live in St. Paul, creating the largest urban population in the world.

The first Hmong family arrived in Duluth in 1978. Now, there are 20 Hmong families, about 150 people, in the Duluth area.

Participants in 2009 Hmong New Year
Participants from the 2009 Duluth/Twin Ports Hmong New Year celebration.

Cultural Traditions

New Year celebrations usually occur in late November or early December. Traditionally, this is when the harvest season would end and all the work would be done. It is similar to a Thanksgiving celebration.

"The Hmong New Year provides an opportunity for people to be informed on what is happening in the community," Vang said. "It also allows for the youth and UMD students to get involved in their community and it is a way for them to meet other students that aren't on campus."

The celebration preserves traditions by involving traditional Hmong clothing, dances, food, music, and poetry.

UMD Performers

A group of APAA members will perform a traditional Hmong dance. "These members have choreographed a dance and will perform at the New Year to a traditional Hmong song, displaying the cultural performing aspect of Hmong arts." The members include Mary Xiong, Maikha Vang, Mainhia Vang, Ching Xiong, Lynda Xiong, Wendy Thao, Long Xiong, and Duzong Yang.

A men’s group featuring APAA members Va Yang, Nqoua Yang, and Paul Lee will sing to a modern Hmong song. A women’s group will also sing to a modern Hmong song featuring APAA members Duzong Yang and Dee Vang.

A fashion show will display authentic and traditional Hmong clothing worn during a New Year celebration. After the programs, a traditional lunch featuring Hmong cuisine will be served.

UMD Volunteers

Other APAA members will help set up and clean for Saturday's program and also to be greeters at the front door. This year, APAA has volunteered to organize some activities and Hmong games for the children during the Sunday Social. Children will learn the traditional games that were played in Laos during the New Year celebration.

Some of the activities APAA has planned for the children include traditional-hat-making and coloring contest. For the traditional-hat-making activity, children will have the chance to be creative and decorate a paper hat that mimics a traditional Hmong hat, typically worn at the Hmong New Year. Other games APAA will help lead and organize include the Hmong ball-tossing game and Hmong jump-rope. 

Vang and Thao both believe that the Hmong New Year provides a unique opportunity for Duluth.

"Participating and volunteering for the Duluth Hmong New Year provides an opportunity for interested individuals, both on campus and in the community, to learn more about the Hmong and Asian-American culture as well as teach, learn, and preserve the customs, cultures, and heritage of both Hmong and Asian-American people," Thao said. "APAA's involvement in the Hmong New Year will enable us to give back to the community while learning and preserving our Hmong and Asian culture."

Vang says that one of the goals of UMD's involvement in the Hmong New Year is to help with student development. "It's important for students to know where they are from and their cultural traditions," Vang said. "By doing this, they will be able to apply it to their purpose as students at UMD."

For more information contact Hli Vang or 726-6335.

This event is sponsored by First United Methodist Church, Copeland Community Center, Northland Foundation, Asian Pacific Cultural Center, ISD 709, and Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, with help and volunteers from UMD Asian Pacific American Association.

All Hmong population facts come from The Hillsider and MPR.

Written by Mandee Kuglin

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