Hmong residents hold celebration in Southwest Missouri

Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Lance Massey, Wheaton school superintendent, was introduced as a keynote speaker during the Hmong New Year celebration in Wheaton on Saturday. He discussed the importance of the local Hmong community, and recognized school employees, students and parents of students from the Hmong community. His words were translated by Kelly Lee. Jordan Privett/

Traditional Hmong dancing, food, singing and clothes

The Hmong community has been part of Southwest Missouri for nearly 15 years, and its New Year celebration is meant to bring different cultures together to celebrate, as well as understand one another.

Kelly Lee, secretary of the Southwest Missouri Hmong Association, said the Association is a non-profit organization that serves the Hmong community of Southwest Missouri and surrounding four states region.

Samantha Vang, 18, from Alaska, has recently moved to the area. She dressed up to be a part of the fashion show during the Hmong New Year celebration in Wheaton on Saturday. Once she gains her residency, she hopes to continue her nursing school education at Crowder College. Jordan Privett/

“The Hmong, a free and nomadic tribe with origins starting in the mountains of China, Laos, and Thailand and migration to the USA in the late 1970s,” Lee said. “Although the Hmong people do not have a country of their own, they have a beautiful, rich and unique culture.”

The mission is to preserve and promote Hmong traditions, heritage, arts and cultural unity. Also, it aims to encourage education, and empower the Hmong to continue to assimilate as a Hmong American while building strong relationships with local communities in which members reside in.

“The New Year Celebration is a special time in which we honor the fruitfulness of the past year and welcome the upcoming year,” Lee said. “It’s a day filled of traditional music, performances, ball tossing, history and cultural shows.”

Liliana Cunningham, 6, from South Carolina, has moved to Wheaton while her father serves in the military for the next year. She wears traditional Hmong garments for the New Year Celebration in Wheaton on Saturday. Jordan Privett/

Lee said every year they invite the community to participate in what their New Year and heritage is about.

“The doors open at around 8 a.m,” Lee said. “In the mornings, we do a fashion show to show the different clothing that we wear, dance performances and speeches.”

According to Lee, after the free lunch, there is always more entertainment that includes dances, children showing the history of Hmong people and a singing competition.

“Everything is free and open to our community,” Lee said. “Lunch is always free. This year we did fried chicken, egg rolls, rice and salad.

“The menu is meant to incorporate everyone, but also having the Hmong culture there.”

Lee said this year, the singing competition had cash prizes.

“People all over the four-state area come to celebrate with us,” Lee said. “We see about 800 people for the New Year celebration.”

Lee said the New Year celebration is important so that their children know to continue these traditions in the future.

“Historically, the Hmong people were scattered in different villages,” Lee said. “So, New Year celebrations start at the end of harvest.”

According to Lee, villages start celebrating New Year at different times.

“Instead of trying to do one big New Year, they made it so people would have time to travel if they could,” Lee said. “A lot of people couldn’t afford to travel from one village to another, so it historically isn’t celebrated on one day, but rather, a time frame.”

Lee said it can be celebrated from October, or the end of harvest time, all the way up to the international new year celebration in Fresno, Calif.

“In Fresno, that celebration goes on for about a week and a half,” Lee said. “It starts right after Christmas and goes on until New Year’s day.”

Lee said she hopes to continue this event every year with the community.

“We serve a radius of 150 miles,” Lee said. “We hope that as we grow, we can grow the event and share it with the community.”

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