Dueling Hmong New Year celebrations ready to go

FRESNO, Calif.

The music of a new year dawning already echoes through the Industrial Education building at the Fresno Fairgrounds. The Hmong International New Year celebration officially kicks off Thursday, but for some, the party has already started.

Hundreds of tents are popping up throughout the fairgrounds as vendors prepare for as many as 200,000 visitors during the weeklong festivities. Tables fill the tents and giant grills stand, ready for duty.

"Barbecue, pork, chicken, fish," are among the food the Alliance Church of Merced is preparing, according to volunteer Nou Vang.

The church is a vendor for the second year in a row and its meaty menu will be cooked and delivered by volunteers raising money for a brick and mortar building in the north Valley.

"Our church is in the process of almost being complete right now," Vang said.

But the traditional ball tossing and rice wine haven't been able to bring the entire Hmong community together under the same tent. A group that splintered off three years ago is again putting on its own New Year celebration. Organizers say the stage is set for a more traditional and more inclusive gathering.

"The biggest thing is we're having free admission and free parking for our attendees just due to the fact that back in Thailand it was always free to everybody," said United Hmong Council New Year director Sara Thao.

Fresno police are also preparing to patrol the two New Year celebrations. They say officers will be stationed inside and outside, and they'll be able to work both parties, since they're less than two miles apart this year.

The final preparations for the UHC celebration -- the first at Calwa Park -- include the removal of a couple trees, to be replaced by perhaps the oldest changing of the calendar tradition.

"Those are blessing poles," Thao said. "Back then, it was only one pole, but because they believe that there's a man and a woman, so both the poles represent a man and a woman and they'll be blessing the whole community with it."

And as people arrive from all over the country and world, the city of Fresno also reaps an economic blessing.

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