By Belle Vang, COSS Communications Student Assistant
The popular, seven-day Hmong Cultural New Year Celebration (HCNYC) is here! As the biggest of its kind in the nation, people all over the world are excited to be attending the event in Fresno at the Fresno Fairgrounds.
The celebration marks the end of the lunar calendar and the fresh start of a new year. In ancient times, it honored a time of war between mankind and evil spirits, but over time, it became a commemoration of the new harvest, according to Professor Cher Teng (Bee) Yang, Social Work field liaison and instructor at Fresno State.
In its third year of hosting the 40-year-old celebration, the HCNYC continues to practice cultural representation of the Hmong community while collaborating with the new generations’ American identity. HCNYC has implemented new volunteer programs such as tour guides and greeters. Options like these offer new opportunities for students like Hnub Lee, Fresno State undergraduate and Asian American Studies (ASAM) minor, to get involved with her community.
“When I volunteer, I either greet by the entrance or provide tours for people coming from different cities to join the Hmong Cultural New Year,” Hnub shares. “It’s often their first time experiencing [the HCNYC], so I tour them around the ball tossing area, the pageant room, the performance stages, and the food court.”
Hnub enjoys how the HCNYC brings nearly 200,000 people from different communities to celebrate the Hmong culture by dressing up in traditional clothing and eating popular foods. She lightheartedly admits that one of the reasons she attends the event is for her love of foods ranging from Hmong sausages to sticky rice to Thai tea. Being a foodie, Hnub shares that the celebration’s food always tastes a little different than it does any other time of the year because she gets to share it with her community.
Galcy Lee, Fresno State undergraduate and ASAM minor, enjoys the food as well, but she says her favorite part of the HCNYC is dressing up in cultural attire and representing her family’s clans. The Hmong culture has several different and colorful styles based on a family’s last name, and the outfits often includes heavy jewelry like “xauv Hmoob” (Hmong necklaces) and “hlab nyiaj” (money bags) decorated with silver coins.
“When I was a little kid, I really hated wearing Hmong clothes cause everything’s really heavy, and you get tired quickly when you just walk around with your parents,” Galcy admits. “Now, I just enjoy and appreciate it more. I go almost every day, and my favorite part of the HCNYC is honestly dressing up.”
Galcy says the ASAM program helped her embrace her Hmong heritage and find her path to success by becoming educated and open-minded with her culture’s history, and Hnub feels very similarly. Hnub recalls her lack of interest identifying as Hmong American early in her childhood but later seeking support and motivation through her ASAM minor.
“There’s not a lot of Asian American representation in the U.S.,” said Hnub. “I feel like ASAM has really reassured myself that I am Hmong American, and more people should know more about Asian American history by doing research on cultural stereotypes of Asian Americans labeled as the ‘model minority.”
Hnub emphasizes the struggles of finding a sense of identity as a Hmong student but believes the barrier creates a unique bond between students who learn to be proud of their background. Galcy confides in Hnub’s message as she shares her endeavors of identity in college as well.
“I was lost in college and didn’t like my major but then I took this Hmong class at [Fresno] State, and it was the only class I really liked that semester. I don’t know, but I just felt like I found myself.”
As Galcy continued to further her education in ASAM with Dr. Davorn Sisavath, ASAM assistant professor and co-coordinator, she began to realize how little she knew about her background, but instead of being discouraged, Galcy felt an excitement to learn and grow more. She shares an aspect of growth in her life by becoming more outspoken and confident in standing up for her community and being proud of her Hmong identity.
Hnub and Galcy feel as if ASAM created a stronger connection between themselves, their culture, and their peers. They say the celebration creates a strong feeling of community connectedness and belonging over the transition of a new year.
“I feel like I’m in my happy place when I go to the HCNYC because I’m around people who are like me,” Galcy laughs. “We come from a culture where we don’t really have anything that’s ours, you know? So I feel happy when I go to Fresno’s HCNYC and attend concerts in our community like Sudden Rush.”
This Hmong New Year has existed for over forty years in the Central Valley. Professor Yang emphasizes that Fresno is important in its role because the fairgrounds can handle the capacity of attendees and offers steady weather for the attendees to participate.
“The HCNYC in America carries a different meaning for the new generation that grew up here,” said Professor Yang. “It’s more of putting on traditional clothes to remind you who you are and representing your cultural identity, but it’s kept its meaning of ending the old year and welcoming the new year.”
Professor Yang elaborates that because the Hmong New Year traditionally follows the lunar calendar, the most appropriate time to celebrate is during the time of Thanksgiving. Despite not having a specific time designated to celebrate the new year, Professor Yang stresses the Hmong New Year’s representation of the Hmong culture’s practice of oral history.
“The new year ritual is always verbal, like hu plig (spirit/soul calling),” Professor Yang explains. “It continues to maintain part of our identity.”
The Hmong Cultural New Year Celebration is from December 26 to January 1 at the Fresno County Fairgrounds.