Eau Claire Hmong community welcomes a new year

Submitted by WQOW

Submitted by WQOW

Story by Tyler Henderson, Multimedia Editor

For two days last weekend, community members and students honored  Hmong traditions through song, dance, competitions, food and traditional Hmong outfits at this year’s Hmong New Year celebration at McPhee Physical Education Center.

Pa Thao, executive director of the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association Inc. said the event is integral to the preservation of the Hmong tradition here in America.

“That’s part of our mission, to preserve and practice our traditional Hmong customs,” Thao said. “To showcase that to our kids who may not have grown up in Thailand or Laos.”

An important practice in the culture is ball tossing, or pov pob. Traditionally, it is a courting ritual between two people tossing a ball back in forth in a specific fashion. It is now also a competition at the Hmong New Year celebration as couples try to toss it back and forth the longest.

UW-Eau Claire senior Manee Yang said the game still has its place in the Hmong culture.

“My boyfriend and I did the ball toss with my cousin and niece. It’s just fun,” she said. “Now, not as many people do it (as a courting practice).”

Yang said the traditional clothes, which the wearer typically makes, featuring bright colors and shiny pendants, are reserved for the Hmong New Year.

“You get dressed up in your best clothes,” Yang said. “These clothes are the clothes you never really wear but you work very hard to make for the celebration.”

The competitions at the event aren’t too competitive, Yang said, as they’re “just for fun.”

Participants compete in singing, dancing and fashion competitions. Yang, a member of the Hmong Student Association, also said the tradition of kwv txiaj was also on display. Kwv txiaj is a Hmong practice of musical poetry.

Thao said the key to preserving the Hmong culture lies in events like this, now that many customs are no longer a daily practice.

“It’s a special occasion to take that weekend out of the year to celebrate,” she said. “To engage in the ball toss game, to have time to spend with family, and to bring the culture into the New Year.”

Thao also said the 2014 celebration was successful in getting the younger crowd involved.

“We had a lot of vendors, a lot of participants,” she said. “The students were a lot more engaged this year … it’s really a weekend when we can all celebrate being Hmong.”