Hmong Madison, a local organization, puts on an annual Hmong New Year celebration full of music, dancing and history. But this year, in addition to the singing competitions and vendors selling traditional clothing, the organization wants to emphasize Hmong-American kids.
The celebration aims to help them learn more about their history and better understand their identity, said Chue Feing Thao, the New Year Chair of Hmong Madison.
This Friday and Saturday, Madison’s Hmong community will celebrate the Hmong New Year at the Alliant Energy Center at 1919 Alliant Energy Way.
There’s no admission fee for the daytime events, which take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The evening events are from 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. and require a $15 entrance fee, or $12 if tickets are bought in advance.
The Hmong New Year takes place in November or December, traditionally celebrating the end of harvest, with the actual celebration date varying between communities. In Madison, the celebration takes place over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The celebration involves two full days of activities. It kicks off with an opening ceremony parade and includes singing and dancing competitions, musical performances, Hmong vendors and a Miss Hmong Madison pageant.
The keynote speakers this year are Shoua Yang and Yang Sao Xiong. Yang will discuss contemporary Hmong-American involvement in politics and public service, Thao said, and Xiong will talk about the life of Hmong-Americans in the U.S.
Thao said the focus for this year’s celebration is the younger generation of Hmong-Americans. They want kids who have never experienced a Hmong New Year to be comfortable participating, with the hope that the event will help them better understand their cultural identities.
One way the event is reaching out to youth is through the Miss Hmong Madison pageant. Pa Foua Thao, the pageant coordinator, said the contest offers a chance to teach young women about Hmong language and history, help them develop leadership skills, and promote higher education.
Plus, this year’s event will have more cultural performances than ever before, said Mai Zong Vue, the culture shows coordinator.
Performers will get a chance to show off their uniquely Hmong talents, playing traditional instruments and singing folk songs.
The elders of the community will also perform a skit about life back in Laos, the Hmong country of origin. They’ll demonstrate a day in “the old traditional lifestyle,” Vue said, showing how they would care for livestock and work in the fields.
That’s a great way for the youth to learn about and take an interest in their heritage, Vue said. Plus, watching traditional arts and music performances may spark and interest and motivate them to learn those same skills, she said.
Helping Hmong kids better understand their history can have a variety of benefits. Vue also helps run the Hmong Language and Cultural Enrichment Program that aims to improve kids academic scores through a six-week summer language and cultural camp.
The idea of the program is that it provides a safe place for Hmong children to understand who they are. By building confidence, self-esteem and cultural support, kids should be better equipped to tackle academics.
Saturday's event hopes to build that confidence, and everyone is welcome, Vue said.
“People who are interested in learning about the community and people want to be part of the community can come and be part of the New Year,” Vue said.