Fresno Hmong gathering celebrates culture

The Fresno BeeDecember 14, 2013 

Swathed in vibrant colors and patterns, adorned with silver medallions and beads, about 75 Hmong youth tossed balls back and forth between two lines that formed, one for girls and one for boys.

Kia Thao, 50, smiled approvingly as she watched the traditional ball tossing Saturday at Vang Pao Elementary School in Fresno during an event celebrating Hmong culture.

She was pleased to see the tradition conducted accurately: Two lines is correct, girls facing boys -- unlike groups that often form haphazardly at many Hmong New Year celebrations, Thao said.

Along with sharing in traditional activities, Saturday's event aimed to educate the next generation about the meaning of customs and why they matter, said Chankeo Vang, a language instructional specialist with Parent University, a Fresno Unified School District group that works to connect families and schools.

"If you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you will go," Vang said.

Parent University sponsored the "Bringing Together the Future" event, attended by several hundred people. It was the first districtwide Hmong gathering, Vang said.

The gathering included Hmong arts and crafts, a "cultural competency" class, food and entertainment, including Hmong dance performances and singing.

In one room, a group of women helped teach girls to sew as they sat surrounded by beautiful handmade Hmong dresses and sashes.

Traditionally, a mother might spend a year making the most beautiful dress possible for her daughter to wear during the Hmong New Year, Vang said. A beautiful dress shows prospective suitors that the girl has wealth, prosperity and good parents, she said.

And the ball tossing -- also a component of Hmong New Year, a six-day celebration that begins Dec. 26 at the Fresno Fairgrounds -- is a way for young men and women to meet and get to know each other, Vang said.

"We want them to know their own culture," she said. "We want them to come and learn."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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