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ISSUE 119 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/18/2005

A year's reflection: Hmong culture celebrates harvest, tradition

By Jared Wall
Staff Writer

Friday, November 18, 2005

The sign above the door during the celebration this past Saturday in the Pause read "Happy Hmong New Year." St. Olaf and Carleton College students, faculty, family members, and friends celebrated the New Year with traditional Hmong food, music, games, and cultural performances in a four-hour event that was free to the public.

"When you think of the New Year, you think of January first," said Mike Vang ‘'07, co-chair of the St. Olaf College Hmong Culture Outreach (HCO) organization. "But New Year for other people of the world symbolizes something different."

The Hmong New Year customarily takes place after the harvest and is a time for the Hmong people celebrate the end of the old year and commemorate the new in a time of spiritual reflection and thanks.

"It’s a time to come together," said Cheng Zeng Vang ’'09, "Rejoice for the coming year and a fresh new beginning."

St. Olaf senior Lily Moua and Carleton junior Chai Lee hosted the ceremony, which featured an elaborate array of traditional dress and musical entertainment. Colorful costumes swirled among the crowd as the celebrators dressed in their traditional best.

There was a performance on the Hmong qeej, a bamboo and wooden mouth organ, as well as pop tunes of a Hmong American nature. Skits were prepared that emphasized the daily toil of Hmong harvesters in China, Vietnam, and Laos, but the celebration also included the nontraditional No Talent Show.

A customary ball toss game was played during a lunch of traditional Hmong dishes, demonstrating a culturally acceptable and encouraged Hmong courtship ritual.

The time commitment preparing for the New Year’s ceremony involved making costumes and preparing enough food for hundreds of people.

"Bon Appétit was very generous in offering their kitchen for us to use," said Vang. The student chefs got little to no sleep Friday night, but provided a fun and culturally educational atmosphere to everyone present.

One of the most striking features of Saturday’s abroad Hmong awareness was "One Day of War: Frontlines", a 2004 documentary by BBC journalist Rumi Hamid. The fifteen-minute documentary portrayed the ongoing persecution of the Hmong in Laos. The video produced documented evidence of a U.S.-led Hmong and CIA secret war in Laos in the 1970s, and asked for foreign intervention on behalf of a dying people.

The Pause event was sponsored in part by the St. Olaf HCO organization, which meets every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. to discuss issues that affect the Hmong population in general and the community at large. The HCO represents St. Olaf College’s largest multicultural minority group, and extends an open invitation to all Northfield students and citizens who want to know more about the Hmong culture in Minnesota and abroad.

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