Around the beginning of every November comes a time of celebration for the Hmong New Year, and with it, the annual Madison Hmong New Year (MHNY) celebration that draws in people from throughout Wisconsin and surrounding states, as well, to the Alliant Energy Center for a weekend of fun and honoring tradition.
This year’s celebration took place on November 4-5 and had plenty of activities and cultural celebrations including a kick-off event the Friday night before. G Thao, chairman of the Hmong New Year celebration committee, reflected on the “Forward” theme for the event, and how many of their decisions for the event come from listening and reacting to community feedback.
“This year, we really wanted to hone in on the empowerment of women in our community,” Thao told Madison365. “I thought ‘Forward’ was such a very intentional theme for us. It’s intentional because we had a big change after the pandemic with how our New Year was going to be presented to the community. We put a community first focused on how we planned and how we executed on a lot of our activities and events.”
Thao also highlighted the continued growth in areas of bringing in local Hmong businesses and organizations that serve Hmong communities so that success can be consistently shared between those providing and looking for services and goods.
Freedom, Inc. has been a consistent piece of the MHNY in that aspect, and Chai Moua, co-executive director of the organization, spoke to how important it is for them to hold space for all identities in the Hmong community, as well as staying true to the authentic community connections they cherish.
“This year, we opted out of a smaller booth, but wanted to build a bigger booth so that we had a lounge for Hmong women, children, and queer folks to just sit, relax, and talk in a place aside from all the crowd,” Moua explained to Madison365. “We realized that a lot of our youth and queer folks actually didn’t have gender-affirming Hmong clothing to wear for the New Year, or oftentimes had one outfit that they would wear every year until it didn’t fit anymore. Knowing that all of our people deserve to wear cultural clothing that they felt good in, we started a love closet, and our love closet was actually at the New Year with us this year.”
Moua also reflected on her role helping to organize and run past celebrations in terms of how finding a balance between growth and respecting the local community, as well as providing something for every generation are continual areas of development.
As a piece of the community feedback-driven response that Thao spoke of, the implementation of traditional Hmong practices around the New Year and the return of rice mochi thanks to a generous donation by River Food Pantry spoke to the commitment of adjusting to make as many feel satisfied from the event as people. Something Thao said was especially important for honoring elders in the community.
“For me, it was bringing back the culture aspect to our event,” said Thao. “I think that’s been missing a lot of elements because it’s always brought in as a piecemeal each year. What we did was invest in creating cultural artifacts that we put into kind of an exhibition of cultural heritage stuff that our parents grew up using. Some of the preparation tools and cooking tools that our parents use during the New Year’s season.”
Thao also highlighted the factor of youth with the Hmong population in Wisconsin housing a lot of people in younger generations. Evident in the MHNY weekend was a focus on providing a quality weekend for Hmong children especially to celebrate Hmong culture and tradition.
Moua echoed the great opportunity for kids, and spoke to continued imagination in providing activities and engagement for all ages, especially for those teenagers and young adults who are not active in any of the established activities or events. Moua suggested that continued collaboration between the planning committee and community partners could help to address these gaps and spread some of the work to those who specialize in community engagement.
However, the most important thing Moua said to keep in mind when thinking of the Hmong New Year is that the celebration is more than just one weekend, and the cultural history and significance go beyond what you see at the forefront.
“Our New Year starts with a ceremony that we use to get rid of all bad luck and everything bad in the past year, and then welcome in good luck with the new year…I think it’s important because otherwise, the mainstream community or our community only sees the Hmong New Year as that two-day celebration. Many of us are coming home and doing our own spiritual New Years within our homes. Freedom Inc knows the populations we work with, victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, youth, widowed and divorcees, queer and LGBTQ folks, often don’t get that spiritual calling, we call it Hu Plig. We actually have a celebration coming for all of our members and folks who won’t have that part of the New Year happen.”