Thousands from throughout Wisconsin and surrounding states converged on Lake Pacawa this weekend for the Hmong Pre-New Year Celebration held Saturday and Sunday in Plover.
“New Year is very important for the Hmong people,” said Nao Neng Vang, chairman for this year’s event, which was organized by the Hmong-American Association of Portage County. “It’s an opportunity for friends and relatives to be with each other.”
Vang said the Hmong celebrate the New Year on Jan. 1, but primarily in small, family groups. The annual pre-new year celebration, which was held for the 14th time at Lake Pacawa, takes place in September to allow for outdoor activities because of the warm weather, and for a larger gathering of friends and family.
“It’s an opportunity to wear the traditional clothing and to expose the young people to our traditional culture,” Vang said. “It’s a coming together of the new and old generations.”
Vang said it also is traditionally an opportunity for young boys and girls to meet and become couples.
The entertainment tent featured traditional Hmong singers, dancers and music. Several vendors offered modern garb along with traditional Hmong clothing and fabrics. Pop music in the Hmong language played on speakers throughout the vendor tents, where Hmong DVDs also were on sale along with toys, household items and other wares.
Competitive games of volleyball and soccer were played, showcasing the Hmong athleticism in the most popular sports played in Laos and Vietnam, where the Hmong people originate.
“Most people don’t understand why the Hmong have come to the United States,” Vang said, adding that Hmong refugees began settling in central Wisconsin in the mid-1970s. “We’re here because of the Vietnam War, and we are still being persecuted in Vietnam today.”
Kia Moua, 16, of Wisconsin Rapids said the pre-new year celebration is an annual event. “It’s kind of like a reunion for everyone to come here,” she said.
“This is where we all gather,” said Chong Vang, 17, of Junction City. “We have friends and family here from all over.”
Several options were available to sample Hmong food like sausage, chicken, fish and rice. Maria Li of Wausau served a sweet, multi-colored tapioca drink. The drink is made up of tapioca that has been dyed red, yellow and green. It is combined with coconut juice and a sugar syrup. “It’s the main desert for the Hmong people,” Li said.