Photos here are from the New Year celebrations at the main Hmong refugee camp, Ban Vinai, in Loei province of northern Thailand. Most pictures were taken between 1980-1988.
These photos are part of the Minors’ collection, which will be used to illustrate a book on the refugee and resettlement experience of the Hmong in Minnesota and around the U.S.
As we interview refugees and hear their memories, it becomes clear that the New Year was a conflicting time for many families in camp; bitter-sweet with feelings of thanks for surviving the war and being together again with family, as many had been separated before and while fleeing Laos, and feelings of terrible loss as they remained separated from family members whose fate was not known, and the very recent memories of the many who died trying to get to Thailand.
There were many families who managed to bring some of their traditional clothing when they fled Laos to Thailand, and some families had relatives who had resettled in third countries like the U.S., France or Australia who could send them clothing or material to make their own, as wearing traditional garb was an integral part of New Year.
But most families had little or no traditional clothes or paj ntaub, and had only donated or locally purchased Thai and Lao clothing. This was a cause of concern and in our interviews older folks talk about this as it weighed heavily on them at the time.
Another concern was not having traditional food for family and relatives, and for offering in thanks for harvest and to honor ancestors’ spirits. Of course, in the camps there was little to harvest. These things did not deter most folks from turning out as best they could and enjoying the festivities.
Then as now, aside from the serious ceremonies to bring good fortune for the coming year, the young and old enjoyed football, music and traditional ball tossing, though in quite different conditions.
Usually New Year celebrations were held for several days and were in fine weather, early in the cool dry season of late November and early December, but some years rain prevailed, though spirits were undampened.
Please contact us if you recognize anyone in the photos in this series, as we are collecting stories from the folks who were there.
St. Paul, MN 55117
Or email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To see our current projects working with Hmong children from remote villages in northern Viet Nam, please visit our website at: http://minorsasia.org/index.html