Large crowds celebrate Hmong New Year in Fresno as 2023 ends

Trong Yang

The Fresno celebration is the largest Hmong cultural gathering in the country and draws people from far away.

Fresno’s four-day Hmong Cultural New Year Celebration saw thousands of visitors gather at the county fairgrounds with their friends and families. The first to enter the gates when it opened last month was regular attendee Paj Vang.

Vang, a case manager at The Fresno Center, attended this year’s Hmong New Year celebration with her mom and two sisters. Vang said the celebration is a huge part of her life and it is her favorite thing to look forward to each year because it allows her to stay connected to her heritage.

“My mom started taking my sisters and me to Hmong New Year when I was just 6 years old,” she said. “I have loved it ever since. We look forward to it every year and always plan on wearing matching Hmong dresses.”

Vang moved to Fresno from Thailand in 2005. The first Hmong New Years celebrations she attended in the U.S. were in San Diego and Banning.

“I was surprised that there were Hmong New Years in America,” she said. “They were really fun because it was one of the first times that I saw unique styles that people added to the traditional Hmong clothes.”

Traditional Hmong attire was seen throughout the four-day event. Hmong clothing and patterns vary depending on the clan, or xeem.

But many people mix in a bit of their own style with jewelry and by adding vibrant colors to their vests and “sev,” an embroidered apron-like garment, for a modern look. Some had carefully layered skirts to create a gown shape, while others had black pants with glittery materials.

‘We come back every year’

One local vendor at the Fresno celebration, Maila Xiong, sold Hmong clothing, either individual pieces for those who like to put together their own outfits or complete sets which, for women and girls, includes a vest, hat, sev and pants or skirt in matching patterns.

Xiong, who has attended the Fresno celebration for over 15 years, said this year felt especially festive.

“I see so many babies wearing Hmong clothes and I see Hmong kids bringing their friends of other races, too,” Xiong said. “I love it. It feels so lively to see so many people celebrating our culture and having fun doing it.”

The Fresno celebration is the largest Hmong cultural gathering in the country and draws people from far away. Event organizers did not respond to Fresnoland’s requests for attendance figures from the event, which ran from Dec. 28-31, but attendees estimated thousands joined the festivities each day.

Jason Her flew from Minnesota with his family to join Fresno’s Hmong New Year celebration. Several years ago, it is where he met the woman who became his wife. One of the highlights of the gathering is a traditional courtship activity known as “pov pob,” which has unmarried men and women toss a ball back and forth to one another.

“I asked her to pov pob with me,” Her said. “Now we come back every year with our kids and they always have a blast, too.”

Vang said she also enjoys pov pob as a fun tradition to share with her family. The cultural food also plays a part in what keeps Vang and her family returning every year. One of her favorite snacks, she said, is bamboo coconut sticky rice, or “mov raj” in Hmong.

“This year had a lot of people, it looked like there were about 200,000 people on the last day,” Vang said. “I’m looking forward to next year, I hope they will bring back the outside stage again and the iconic benches – especially for the elders that need a short rest from walking.”

Vang decided this year to give back to her community by volunteering with The Hmong, Inc. – the organizers for the Hmong Cultural New Year Celebration. She helped set up inside the Industry Commerce Building, where cultural performances and competitions were held.

The Fresno celebration is the largest Hmong cultural gathering in the country and draws people from far away. Attendees estimated thousands joined the festivities each day. Photo by Trong Yang/Fresnoland

Pageant winner crowned; Minnesota dance team takes top prize

Seven contestants competed in the Miss Hmong Grand International Pageant, which drew thousands of spectators. Paj Tshiab Xyooj, also known as Pachia Xiong, was crowned the winner, earning a prize of $10,000. Taylor Moua and Hnub Ci Xyooj were the runners up. 

In the dance competition, a total of 14 teams performed, with the top prize going to Blazing Sapphire Dance Team from St. Paul, Minn. Laitxhia Lee, who has coached the team during its 10-year existence, said the dancers dedicate an enormous amount of time and energy to perfect their routines.

“The girls balance school, work, outside sports and activities, time spent with friends and family, along with dancing,” Lee said. “They are all very committed dancers and work very hard to have the success they do today.”

The December celebration marked the first time it was organized by The Hmong, Inc., which was awarded the fairgrounds’ contract to manage the event. The Fresno nonprofit agreed to pay $109,755 per day, with revenue coming from attendance tickets and vendor fees. The group has the opportunity to extend the contract through 2027. Future news about the next Hmong Cultural New Year Celebration in Fresno will be shared on The Hmong, Inc’s Facebook page.

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2024-01-06 01:28:52 , Fresnoland

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