The beloved Minnesota Hmong-American New Year (MNHNY) at St. Paul’s RiverCentre has been canceled this year due to COVID-19. This year (MNHNY 2021) would have been the 5th year that the MNHNY at the St. Paul RiverCentre is hosted by The United Hmong Family, Inc. (UHF, Inc.), succeeding the former Lao Family Community of Minnesota (LFC). Founded nearly 41 years ago, the MNHNY-RiverCentre stands strong today as one of the most memorable Hmong cultural festivals in Minnesota.
What does it mean to be Hmong? In the previous year, the Hmong Times was privileged with the opportunity to speak to The United Hmong Family, Inc.’s chairwoman, Mee Vang, regarding the Minnesota Hmong New Year (MNHNY) celebration that is held at the RiverCentre every year.
Vang stated that tradition is an act of the past embraced and repeated in the present. “It is the way our parents, grandparents and ancestors have celebrated the coming of a new year for thousands of years. It is a blessing of the home and preparing for a new year with anticipation of new things to come.”
And indeed, the Hmong have endured thousands of years of oppression and migration, which is why the Hmong are such a resilient race and also firm in their beliefs. That is why gatherings like the Hmong New Year celebrations are so crucial to the embracing of Hmong history and roots. And speaking of such, Hmong New Year is historically known as a gathering time and place for the youth to don their best cultural clothing and go out for a ball toss and friend chat for possible courtship. In modern times, however, these ball toss events have become more of a game between friends and/or preexisting romantic partners, and even between a father and his little girl.
In the words of Vang, the Minnesota Hmong New Year celebration is a fond pastime for families and friends to gather and honor our elders, especially those that have helped shaped our lives through the year. Keeping traditions alive is important. To be Hmong-American is to remember the struggles of our parents and what they’ve endured in order to bring us to this great land. Hmong-Americans remember the Vietnam War and the sacrifices that were made for future Hmong-American generations.
A Hu Plig ceremony is also an icon to every Hmong New Year’s celebration, and typically part of the MNHNY’s Grand Opening every year around the weekend of Thanksgiving. Hu Plig is an act performed by a household, spiritual, or clan leader, which calls back home the lost spirits of family members and friends and sends away all misfortunes of the year’s past. The Hu Plig ceremony, though only celebrated by traditional shaman-practicing Hmong families, is a ritual that has been and will continue to be included in the MNHNY festival as a token of warmth and goodwill. Blessings are handed out with a boiled egg (a common spiritual blessing gift) to participants in welcoming the New Year. Though this won’t be happening in the arena of the St. Paul RiverCentre this year, it is yet a celebration happening still in the homes of Hmong families who believe in it. Though the event will not be around this year, progressions with COVID-19 vaccines and social distancing efforts will hopefully allow the event to start up again in 2021.
Though today, MNHNY is only a memory, it is but a sweet one in the hearts if its attendees. The popular beauty and bachelor pageants will not be had, and so will not the extraordinary talent shows of traditional and contemporary dancers to singers, performers, and more. The vibrant music and tasty traditional Hmong food won’t be here this year, which, on the up side, will make our hearts grow fonder as the event creeps in closer for the next MNHNY of 2022.
From the beaded Hmong dresses and vest shirts adorned with the silver ncais plaques worn around the necks of men and woman alike to the different borrowed Asian attire, Laotian, Thai, Chinese, Mien, and Indian, this beloved cultural get together will be missed. But hopefully, in the not distant future, we will see the event again Thanksgiving weekend of 2021.
Happy Hmong New Year 2021 to all.