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Hmong New Year, a time to honor and pass down traditions

The welcome gate to HSP’s Cultural Park in Newton, N.C.
Layna Hong
HSP hosts the Hmong New Year at their cultural park in Newton, about 50 miles northwest of Charlotte.

This story first appeared as part of WFAE's EQUALibrium newsletter, exploring race and equity in the Charlotte region. Get the latest news and analysis in your inbox first by signing up here.

While many of us prepare Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, the Hmong community has different plans: They will be celebrating their New Year.

Hmong New Year, or Hmoob Tsiab Peb Caug, is the most important holiday for the Hmong people, an ethnic minority group residing across Southeast Asia in countries like Laos and Thailand.

Hickory-based nonprofit Hmong Southeast Puavpheej (HSP) will host their annual Hmong New Year celebration from Nov. 23-26 at their cultural park in Newton, about 50 miles northwest of Charlotte. HSP aims to “preserve the heritage and rich cultures of the Hmong people” in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. It has hosted the region’s Hmong New Year since 1992.

“The Hmong New Year is really big in the Hmong community, especially in the United States,” HSP’s Vice President II Jer Vang said. “It’s the only thing we can share with our children — that this is our culture.”

Vang said the New Year is the one time that they can proudly display their culture without feeling like they’re standing out. The outdoor grounds in Newton will be bustling with people in traditional Hmong clothing — elaborate, brightly colored and patterned attire with dangling silver coins and jewelry.

Vang explained that the silver coins were a symbol of wealth for Hmongs living in Laos, because only the rich could afford them.

“[Poor people] only had the clothing, but rich people were able to wear the silver coins and the big necklace,” she said. “But when we come to the United States, everyone has the opportunity to wear the silver coins.”

Hmong people first came to the U.S. in large numbers in the late 1970s as refugees of the Vietnam War.

Now, more than 14,000 Hmong people call North Carolina home — the fourth-largest Hmong population in the country, after California, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The majority are concentrated in and around Catawba County.

The New Year is a special time for the Hmong diaspora to gather and connect with one another.

“You wouldn’t believe, there are so many people who come across the United States to see us,” Vang said. “This is the one big time for our children, for people to meet — or single people, they come in looking for partners. And family [from] out of state, they come to see each other.”

The festivities include sports like volleyball and flag football, singing and dancing competitions and vendors selling food, clothing and crafts. One special Hmong tradition is pov pob, a ball-tossing game and courtship ritual that allows young people to meet each other.

Pakou Xiong says that she and her family have been attending the Hmong New Year celebration ever since she moved to Charlotte over a decade ago.

“I don’t know a lot of Hmong people that live here in Charlotte, so it’s nice to go and see all the Hmong people,” she said. “[The new year], it’s for people to reunite and be able to see loved ones.”

Xiong takes her kids, who are half-Hmong and half-Laotian, to learn about their Hmong culture. She said that they love dressing in traditional Hmong clothing for the New Year.

“I teach them, ‘This is why we do this, ‘this is what we wear’ and stuff like that,” she said. “It’s important to keep the culture alive for my kids.”

Xiong’s daughters in traditional Hmong clothing for the New Year.
Courtesy of Pakou Xiong
Xiong’s daughters love dressing in traditional Hmong clothing for the New Year.

Vang encourages everyone to come experience the Hmong New Year. She said that she wants more people to understand their traditions.

“Sometimes people feel intimidated, like ‘Oh, I don’t know if I want to go. Will they welcome us?’” she said. “Yes. People are really friendly, especially the Hmong family. We will love to see different people go in and support us.”

HSP is currently fundraising to build a cultural center, which will serve as a hub for Hmong cultural activities like art exhibitions, performances, workshops and educational programs. More information here.

The Hmong New Year celebration will take place Nov. 23-26, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at HSP’s Cultural Park at 3500 Rockyford Road, Newton, N.C. 

Admission is $8, but free for children 8 and under and seniors 65 and up. More information here

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Layna Hong is a digital producer at WFAE. She is a graduate from UNC Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, where she concentrated in graphic design and reporting.