Food, music, clothing, dance and history shared with Twin Ports and new generation
Caption: Tou Ger Moua, age 5, wears an embroidered Hmong cap at the Hmong New Year celebration. (Photo by Rosemary Hampton)
By Rosemary Hampton
Celebrating the New Year is one way the Hmong people of the Twin Ports can make sure their culture is not forgotten, and a New Year celebration is also a way to share their heritage with the non-Hmong people.
Each year in early December, the Hmong of the Twin Ports come together to celebrate their New Year; they share their clothing, dances, food, music, poetry, and songs.
This year, many Hmong families came together December 5, 2009 to celebrate the Hmong New Year 2010. Dressed in their native costumes, many celebrated during a two-hour program in the Lakeview Social Hall of First United Methodist Church, 230 E. Skyline Prkwy.
This year about 400 people gathered for the event, and 300 of those were non-Hmong people. So, the event was a success in sharing Hmong culture.
History of Hmong in the U.S. and Twin Ports
In 1978 the first Hmong families came to Duluth. Currently about 20 Hmong families, which would be about 125 to 150 people, are living in the Twin Ports. The Hmong who came to the United States as refugees from the Vietnam War came out of Laos where they were recruited by the CIA, beginning in the early 1960’s under President Kennedy to help fight the communist invasion of Southeast Asia. They spent time in the refugee camps of Thailand, varying from a few months to decades. Their culture, language, and background are all very different from that of the other Southeast Asian refugees who came out of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand following the Vietnam War.
In Minnesota the Hmong have the highest homeownership rates of any other minority. This is because the Hmong value living in extended families and pool their resources.
New Year Celebration
The celebration featured interesting instruments including a bamboo flute named a tsaajnplaim and a geej, a large Hmong folk wind instrument made of many pieces of bamboo. Many of the Hmong proudly donned their festive traditional attire. Galong Xiong sang the “Hmong New Year Song” and played the tsaajnplaim. In the “Hmong Traditional Clothing Show” Neng Xiong and Bao Vang wore traditional Blue Hmong clothing, the roots of the Hmong people. Xai and Ka Moua wore clothes to represent the White Hmong, a branch of the Blue Hmong that formed with the early arrival of people from the Middle East to China.
Yia and Xai Vue, nephews of Chia Ying Vue, danced a strenuous folk dance while they each played a geej. The Hmong Girl Dancers, all UMD students, danced a few “Hmong Second Generation Dances” while a a narrator in English told the story that related to each dance. Except for about 20 Hmong born in camps in Thailand, the second and third generations of Twin Port Hmong were born in America.
Tai Xiong wrote, sang and read his poetry in his native language.
Larson retires from ISD, but stays involved with Hmong
The celebration brought a closure not only to the Year 2009 but also to the assistant of the Hmong New Year Committee in Duluth. On that day Bea Larson handed the responsibilities to the Committee’s new assistant, Stacey Afterhoff, a teacher in the Duluth Public Schools. Larson, who is retiring, has been with the Hmong of Twin Ports since they first arrived in 1978.
Although Larson is retiring from her position of instructor in English as a Second Language at the Duluth Adult Learning Center, she will continue to advocate for the local Hmong population as well as tutor people studying for the naturalization exam to become American citizens.