This past Saturday, Carleton’s Coalition of Hmong Student (CHS) and St. Olaf’s Hmong Cultural Outreach organizations collaborated to put on a Hmong New Year celebration in the Great Hall. The event focused on celebrating the Hmong development of art from traditional dancing to contemporary rappers from the Minneapolis area, and drew many people from the Hmong community of the Northfield area.
“The purpose of our Hmong club, CHS, is to make Carleton students aware of Hmong culture, and the most important event for the Hmong people is the Hmong New Year,” said Vang, “and so we believe that by hosting this Hmong New Year then we can share our culture with the people here and with St. Olaf students.”
The Hmong New Year brings together religious, spiritual, and social aspects of the Hmong culture together. “Before the celebration, the traditional Hmong family will go through a cleansing process where you basically cleanse you soul, cleanse your house, and prepare for the New Year,” said Andrea Vang ’13, co-president of CHS.
Traditionally, the New Year also doubles as a courting ceremony in which young people can meet and potentially meet prospective partners.
The theme for this year was In the Blink of an Eye: The Evolution of Hmong Expression. Many different Hmong Artists from the Twin cities as well as students from both Carleton and St. Olaf performed varying art pieces. These contemporary forms of art and expression were juxtaposed with students putting on several dances to help celebrate the New Year.
The guest speaker was May Lee Yang, a play-wright and author of Confessions of a Lazy Hmong Woman from the twin cities. Yang attended Carleton for her first year of her undergraduate studies. Yang read aloud short stories and poems that she had written about her experiences growing up in Hmong-American culture.
Part of the reasons why the Hmong community puts on this event is to help spread an understanding of the Hmong culture. Andrea Vang noted that some students on campus have difficulty noting the differences of Hmong culture from other Asian cultures, especially the impact that the Hmong people have had on American history. Particularly, during the Vietnam War, the US used Hmong forces to fight a proxy war in Laos in what became known as the Secret War. This is one of the influences that encouraged many Hmong people decided to immigrate to the US.
The Northfield Hmong community is fairly small, Minneapolis has a thriving community, and many Hmong students attending both colleges come from the Twin Cities area. St. Olaf has a notably larger population of Hmong students than Carleton though. CHS will continue to hold events, including a fundraiser later in the year, beginning next term.