Thousands expected at Merced Hmong New Year celebrations

MERCED, Calif.

Over the weekend thousands of people from not only the Central Valley, but from throughout the U.S. are expected to attend the Central Valley's Hmong New Year Celebrations. This year there is a focus on the youth and keeping the culture's customs alive.

"The youth they're losing their language actually and my platform or what I'm promoting is Hmong literacy," Jaclyn Xiong said.

Reigning pageant queen, Jaclyn Xiong, has made it her personal mission to remind her peers of the importance of their Hmong culture and heritage.

"So hopefully they'll learn how to read and write in their own language," Xiong said.

She says ever since esteemed elder and influential leader Gen. Vang Pao passed away nearly three years ago; the Hmong New Year's celebration at the Merced County fairgrounds hasn't been quite the same among the youth.

"It's kind of emotional, he's not here anymore and I'm used to seeing him every year. It's a little different now but we're coming together," Xiong said.

There is a huge push to get more teens and young adults involved in events like the ball toss, beauty pageant and dance performances.

"Before I went off to college I didn't really appreciate my culture. I think I took it for granted," Nancy Vang from Merced said. "Coming back to this event here, I love the food and having been away from home for such a long time."

Organizers believe holding the event one month earlier than in years past will encourage attendees to take advantage of the warmer weather.

"It's wonderful. All year everyone is waiting for this moment to come and I would say it's a big family event so it's nice to have everyone come and enjoy the New Year," committee member Ge Thao said.

The Merced Lao family community says the celebration has had a home in Merced for 32 years. About 2,000 people showed up to the opening ceremonies and with visitors travelling from out of the area and out of state attendance is expected to jump up to 5,000 on both Saturday and Sunday.

Cultural dance and talent shows begin at 10 a.m. Saturday as well as the annual beauty pageant. Saturday night takes on a party atmosphere as out of town guests arrive and other activities like soccer and volleyball tournaments will take place throughout the weekend.

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