Dueling Hmong New Year celebrations have led to a lawsuit

FRESNO, Calif.

Two organizations will host separate celebrations this year. And a search of court documents uncovered a newly filed lawsuit showing how deep the divide between those organizations has become.

The celebration at the Fresno Fairgrounds has drawn as many as 120,000 people in a single year. But last year, a splinter group held its festival at a city park. Now the group behind that celebration is suing to take over at the fairgrounds.

New Year's celebrations are taking shape at the Fresno Southwest Regional Sports Complex. Organizers with the Hmong National Council expect a crowd of 70,000 people at the park during the weeklong festivities starting Monday.

"This is the second year and we feel like this is truly, we bring the New Year back to the Hmong community," said Nelson Vang, the director of the event hosted by the Hmong National Council.

Six miles across town at the Fresno Fairgrounds, organizers are setting the stage for their own New Year's celebration. The fairgrounds festival hosted by the Hmong International New Year foundation is the senior celebration. But many in the Hmong community feel like the leaders have lost sight of their original purpose. So, they started the new event.

"Our New Year is truly for culture," Vang said. "We don't use our new year for any campaign with political parties or anything like that."

In fact, leaders of the Hmong National Council claim organizers of the older event are corrupt.

"They allowed funds from revenue received from the annual Hmong New Year celebrations they conducted to be used for personal and other uses unrelated to charitable purposes," they claim in a lawsuit filed Dec. 15.

The lawsuit also claims the Hmong National Council is the rightful owner of the rights to host a celebration at the fairgrounds. This isn't the first time Fresno played host to two Hmong New Year's celebrations. 15 years ago, a lawsuit brought two factions together. And like the matchmaking, ball tossing game played at every New Year's celebration, leaders of the Hmong National Council hope the lawsuit can help unite the two groups again.

Leaders with the fairgrounds festival hadn't seen the lawsuit until an Action News reporter showed it to them Tuesday. They said they weren't ready to comment.

The lawsuit won't have any direct effect on this year's New Year's celebrations. A judge won't even see the case until April 2012.

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