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Lo Neng Kiatoukaysy is the executive director of the Hmong Friendship Association, where he has worked since 1996. Here, he reflects on the local celebration of the Hmong New Year, which was recently celebrated at State Fair Park in Milwaukee.
The Hmong New Year is our community’s pinnacle cultural celebration. It reinforces the identity of the Hmong community as a whole, as well as strengthening the cultural identity of each of its members. Our annual celebration includes colorful costumes, beautiful dancing, traditional folk songs, delicious food and a Hmong marketplace.
For me, the celebration helps to maintain a collective memory of our Hmong homeland and an ethnic consciousness that is central to who I am. When I was a young child, my family had to flee from Laos to Thailand after the Vietnam War; we then came to the U.S. I remember celebrating the new year in Southeast Asia—I always looked forward to it with great anticipation. It was the only time during the year when I got to eat candy—only a couple of pieces. It was also the only time my parents took a break from working in the fields to spend quality time with their children.
Thanksgiving for our ancestors and for the harvest is also a key part of the Hmong New Year. At this time of year, I am always especially mindful of the hard work of my parents, who labored so ceaselessly to provide for my brothers and sisters and me and who overcame so many obstacles to bring us to the United States to begin a new life.
The New Year’s celebration is a time for the Hmong community to connect, remember and practice our rich traditions. It is also an opportunity to pass cultural traditions to our youth and keep them alive. Many Hmong youth were born in the U.S. and do not have memories of life in Southeast Asia. There are folk songs, dances and social rituals—such as ball tossing—that we are able to teach to a new generation of Hmong youth. It also gives Hmong youth who are learning traditional cultural arts with the chance to demonstrate what they have learned through dance and qeej (a windpipe instrument) performances.
In Milwaukee, the New Year’s celebration is usually held the first weekend in December at the Expo Center at State Fair Park. The entire Milwaukee community is invited to take part in the festivities; we welcome the chance to share our rich cultural heritage with the community at large.
Nyob Zoo Xyoo Tshiab! Happy New Year!