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Here’s where you can watch a beauty contest, play games and eat Hmong sausage

Chong Vang shakes hands with guests during the Hmong New Year celebration at the Merced County Fairgrounds last year.
Chong Vang shakes hands with guests during the Hmong New Year celebration at the Merced County Fairgrounds last year. Merced Sun-Star file

The annual Hmong New Year festival of culture, food, dance and more is set this weekend at the Merced County Fairgrounds.

The opening ceremony is set for 11 a.m. Friday at the fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Merced.

The first day typically features speeches, a ritual drink of alcohol and a ribbon-cutting before scores of people pass through an arch marked “Nyob Zoo Xyoo Tshiab” – the Hmong words for “Happy New Year.” That is followed by dance and beauty contests.

An estimated 6,000 to 8,000 Hmong call Merced home, which makes it the third-largest Hmong population center in the state, behind Sacramento and Fresno.

This year has been considered the 40th anniversary of the Hmong migration to the U.S., a marker noted earlier this year by the Hmongstory 40 exhibit, which also was housed at the fairgrounds.

The Hmong people originally are from the mountains of Laos, China, Vietnam and Thailand. They were recruited by the CIA to fight during the Vietnam War, and many emigrated as war refugees after the U.S. left the region and communists took over Laos in the 1970s.

Visitors to the new year celebration in Merced can expect to see traditional Hmong clothing covered in jangling coins and players of a flutelike instrument called a qeej.

Other activities include kator, a game involving a net and a woven wooden ball, and tuj lub, in which players try to knock over competitors’ spinning tops.

Pov pob is a courting tradition that involves throwing a ball back and forth.

Fans of Hmong cuisine can enjoy papaya salad, sticky rice, Hmong sausage, boba drinks and smoked meats, among other foods.

For more on the events, call Merced Lao Family Community Inc. at 209-384-7384 or email mlfc@laofamilymerced.org.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

Hmong New Year

When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Where: 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way

Cost: $4 for admission; $5 for parking

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