Like many festivities, Hmong New Year celebrations were put on hold in the first year of the pandemic. Some gatherings returned this last year, including a New Year celebration at Sheboygan North High School on November 27, 2021. As we continue to settle into 2022, Nkaujoua Xiong brings us the sounds and voices from that event.
I sat in the gym and watched as the opening dancers began their performance and Hmong music played through the speakers. People were quickly snapping their grand entrance photos before pouring in to join the main event.
“Hmong New Year is a time to celebrate, gather family and friends together, make new friends, and find soulmates,” said Sheila Yang, co-chair for Hmong Mutual Assistance Association, the organization in charge of hosting this year’s Hmong New Year in Sheboygan.
“I think COVID played a role that gave a lot of individuals, families, friends in the community a different perspective. It gave them a way to see a different way of life — that gathering means something to you,” she said. “So this year, it brought everyone back to spend time with each other.”
The lobby is also full of people. There are people waiting in line for Hmong food. The menu consists of rice, chicken, papaya salad, and so much more. And there’s an even longer line of people ordering bubble tea.
There are vendors selling fruits and vegetables, clothing and jewelry, and other merchandise.
Fashion is very important in the Hmong culture. Most people today are dressed in a jacket with embroidered textile, a white pleated skirt or black pants wrapped under a waistband. And of course, the entire outfit is adorned with beads and jewelry.
There’s a jingling sound all around us at the event — the sound of coins. Silver coins are also a big part of traditional Hmong clothes. Historically, these coins represented wealth.
“Everyone is dressed in beautiful outfits,” said Mang Xiong, a sponsor from the Wisconsin United Coalition of Mutual Assistance Association.
“I love the Hmong New Year! I grew up going to it every year,” said Xiong. “We get to showcase talent with dance, singing, peb cov hluas nkauj hmoob (our young Hmong women) in the pageants.”
The best performers win a trophy and up to $1,000 in prize money, which they often use to cover travel and clothing expenses.
The hallway next to the stage and audience is bustling with dancers preparing for their performances.
“When I did perform after COVID-19, it was just really exciting,” said Pamela Vang, a dancer from the dance team, Leej Muam Hmoob. In English, it translates to “Hmong Sisters.”
“I know a lot of dance teams had a lot of ideas. Even more ideas developed throughout the pandemic. They have become a lot more creative,” said Vang. “You’re just ready to come out and show everyone what you got.”
“Take these opportunities to come join us. I would say challenge yourself to immerse yourself in another person’s culture,” said Mang Xiong. “We have a lot in common. You just grow so much as a person when you open your hearts and your minds to other cultures. So, come join us.”
“I pray that everyone, from parents to children, will remain healthy and meet only the good,” said Yang reciting a Hmong proverb and a wish for the new year. “No rope to tie your hands or feet. I hope you don’t meet any issues or illnesses. Whatever you’re wishing for, I hope you get it. Even if you get something small, I hope it multiplies.”