Tom Moua, 36, expects a lot of customers to visit his barbecue stand at Fresno Hmong International New Year, which starts Saturday.
Moua owns Montana Q Bar-B-Que House in Missoula, Mont. Friday morning, he and his family set up their stand at the Fresno Fairgrounds. They were preparing for a big turnout because this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Hmong refugee resettlement in the United States.
Many Hmong are survivors of the “secret war” following the 1975 collapse of the kingdom of Laos. The Hmong fought alongside U.S. troops against communism in Indochina, making them targets for extermination after the Laotian communist government took over.
Moua said this is his first time in Fresno, which has the biggest Hmong new year celebration in the country. On Thanksgiving weekend, the Montana Q crew was in Sacramento for its Hmong new year celebration. They are newcomers to the Hmong new year festival scene – they usually sell at barbecue festivals instead.
Fresno has the second-largest Hmong population in the country, with more than 30,000 people. The largest communities of Hmong are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metro area of Minnesota.
Hmong new year festivals are staggered throughout the year, starting around July, so that vendors can travel the circuit. In Fresno, the celebration goes through Jan. 1.
The festivities include dance and singing contests, a beauty pageant, ball-toss games and evening parties. More than 500 booths include vendors selling food and drinks, traditional Hmong clothes and natural medicines.
On Friday, vendors were still buying spaces and setting up. Office aide Amy Vang said that’s because approximately two-thirds of the vendors come from out of town and many arrive Christmas day.
Vang said that around 30,000 people usually attend the celebration. This year, because of the anniversary, they expect up to 50,000.
Moua’s is one of 37 barbecue stands at the festival. But he said Montana Q stands out because it does “low-and-slow smoked ribs” instead of grilling them. His ribs – the specialty – are more American-style.
“It’s standard American-style barbecue,” he said, “but with an Asian flair, because of our sauce and rub.”
Nhia Thao, 23, of St. Paul, Minn., accompanied her parents, who sell dried herbs and roots, traditional Hmong clothes, knives and farming tools.
While Thao’s parents are in town for business, she wanted to come this year to have fun while on break from the University of Minnesota.
“New Year is the only time we get to see the community and join other Hmong people,” she said.
If you go
What: Fresno Hmong International New Year
Where: Fresno Fairgrounds, 1121 S. Chance Ave.
When: 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Dec. 26-Jan. 1
Admission: $4 general entry; free for children under 6, seniors, people using wheelchairs, military and government
More info: www.hinyf.org