The four co-chairs, Mai Nhia Thao '08 and Marilyn Vang '10 of St. Olaf and Phu Tao '08 and Derek Vang '10 of Carleton, organized the fourth annual Hmong New Year celebration, which takes place at St. Olaf every other year.
"The festival brings community together to acknowledge the Hmong New Year and raises awareness about Hmong culture within the St. Olaf and Carleton communities. "Every year we want to promote education and diversity," Thao said.
In Hmong communities that practice agriculture, the New Year celebration acknowledges a time of renewal after months of harvesting.Community members perform traditional rituals in hopes of a good year ahead; rituals range from courting dances to religious rites to house-cleaning and displays of wealth.
During this annual celebration of the new year, students from Carleton and St. Olaf prepare dances, musical performances, speeches and food in order to honor Hmong traditions and gather various Hmong communities in the area.
This year, the celebration drew both St. Olaf and Carleton students as well as their parents and friends. The co-chairs of the event worked closely with Admissions counselor Luyen Phan to bus 115 Hmong high school students to St. Olaf for the festival.
Events of the day ranged from dance performances to a "food fear factor" presentation in which contestants ate egg rolls filled with unknown substances. St. Olaf students who performed included Ka Zoua Xiong '08, who sang flirtatious poetry, and Nhia Chang '10 who played the Qeej, a traditional Hmong flute.
The celebration featured two speakers, Carleton professor of sociology and anthropology Naran Bilik and prominent Hmong community leader Yee Chang. Bilik specializes in race and ethnicity in the United States and China, and Chang is involved in political and social issues that pertain to Hmong communities throughout the world.
Students involved in St. Olaf's HCO and Carleton's CHS prepared almost all the food for the celebration. "This year we were able to provide food for everyone thanks to the members of these organizations," Thao said. "And we even got some sleep the night before!"
This year's theme for the colleges' New Year celebration was "Global Hmong." Thao explained that because Hmong people belong to a cultural group and not a single country, it is important to recognize the multiplicity of Hmong communities across the globe. "We wanted to educate people that Hmong people aren't just in Thailand," she said. "It's the idea that wherever we are, that is home."
To illustrate the "Global Hmong" theme, organizers of the event prepared posters with facts about Hmong communities living in various countries in the world.
The posters represented 11 countries and included data such as Hmong population, occupations held by Hmong people in each country, traditional clothing and celebrations, lifestyle, food and dialects of the language spoken in each place. Thailand, Laos and Vietnam have large Hmong populations, and countries such as Canada and Argentina have small but growing Hmong populations.
Thao sees the annual celebration as a way to bridge cultures and educate people about her culture. She sees Carleton and St. Olaf's collaboration as one that can promote cultural pride and education. "In college, I started to realize more and more that our culture is beautiful," she said. "It's really unique."