IN PICTURES: It’s New Year’s, Hmong-style at El Dorado Park

It was a New Year celebration, Hmong style at El Dorado Park this weekend.

The Southeast Asian ethnic group continued its two-day celebration Sunday with traditional food, music, dance and a fashion show.

This year’s 38th annual Hmong New Year Festival honored elder was Dixie Swift, co-founder of the Homeland Cultural Center in Central Long Beach. The center has served as a space where the Hmong community has been able to pass down its traditions to the next generation over the decades.

“From January to December, every Sunday, these youth take dance classes to prepare for this New Year Festival,” said Gorlia Xiong, director of the Hmong “Qeej not Gangs” program at the center.

“My duty as a director is to preserve our culture and pass it down to the youth,” Xiong said. “it’s important that everyone knows how to identify what their culture is and how to preserve it. I preserve it through teaching dance.”

For the Hmong, the tradition of the New Year celebration comes from only having a one- or two-week break from farming, and coming together to celebrate before returning back to work.

“The only true holiday is the New Year because farmers worked year-round,” said festival organizer Joey Xiong of the Hmong Association of Long Beach.

The most distinguishable part of the Hmong New Year celebration is pov pob, a ball throwing game where young single people line up across from each other and toss a tennis ball back and forth.

“The ball toss is a traditional courting game where young singles meet and greet each other for the first time. Most everyone meets that way,” said Darlene Lee, vice director of the New Year Festival. “Since the Hmong worked on the farm all year long this was the one day they had a chance to get out and celebrate and so they used this as a time to find their mates.”

Lee grew up in Long Beach and met her husband during the New Year festival at El Dorado Park during the ball toss. This year they are celebrating 28 years of marriage.

Wang Leng Xiong, president of the Hmong Association, said during a speech at the festival how proud he was that his children are not ashamed to go out in public with their friends wearing Hmong clothes. He credited the programs at Homeland as the reason.

“Each year this festival is about the mixing of people and culture, the elders, and the younger generation getting together without fear and without shame, to feel that they are Hmong,” he said.

There are about 50 Hmong families currently living in Long Beach, he noted.

“My family, we lost our hometown, our land, our farm, everything we had and had to leave the country,” Wang Leng Xiong recalled. “Returning to my roots and seeing people that share the connection I have to this celebration takes me back in time and makes me feel so happy.”

Teenaged boys and girls play the traditional ball-throwing game called pov pob, where they meet each other to chat and pass the ball back and forth. “In the past, this game was a way for couples to meet each other to date, but nowadays this generation is more likely to meet each other online so the ball toss is more for show,” Darlene Lee, vice director of the festival said.

An elder asks to take a photo of mother and child in traditional, Hmong clothes at the Hmong New Year celebration at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Hmong women line up to get their photo taken by their kids in their handsewn clothing during the Hmong New Year celebration at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Wang Leng Xiong and Dixie Swift (right), the co-founder of Homeland Cultural Center and this year’s honoree, on the festival stage where Wang Leng Xiong called Swift “a mother to the Hmong people of Long Beach.” Hmong New Year at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Dancers during the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Young performers take the stage during the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Gorlia Xiong, Director of the “Qeej not Gangs” program at the Homeland Cultural Center, teaches her dance students how to sit and pose for photos after their performance. “From January to December, every Sunday, these youth take dance classes to prepare for this New Year Festival,” Gorlia Xiong said. The performance took place during the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Darlene Lee and Jennifer Yang take a photo in between the entertainment at the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

A young performer plays the hand-crafted bamboo pipes instrument called the Qeej. Classes for youth wanting to learn how to play the Qeej are taught at the Homeland Cultural Center on Sundays. The performance took place during the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Gorlia Xiong adjusts her dance student’s headdress before she steps on stage. “My duty as a director is to preserve our culture and pass it down to the youth, it’s important that everyone knows how to identify what their culture is and how to preserve it, I preserve it through teaching dance,” Gorlia Xiong said. The performance took place during the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Wang Leng Xiong beams during the Yaj Yuam performance at the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Participants in the Hmong New Year fashion show spin and turn around to show off the hand-stitched detailed and intricate design on the spine and sashes of their dresses during the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach, Sunday, Dec 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Young men show off the details in their clothing during the Hmong fashion show during the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Mai Thao cuts up pork to serve during the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Joey Xiong is chosen to crown the young man who can speak the most fluent Hmong language. “The Homeland Cultural Center allows us a space to pass down our language to the little ones even when it becomes difficult due to assimilation in schools or even at home,” Joey Xiong said during the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Awards are given for best traditional Hmong clothing at the Hmong New Year Festival in El Dorado Park in Long Beach, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Darlene Lee passes out rice cakes and other snacks to guests after they’ve had their meals at the Hmong New Year Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

A mother takes a picture of her children in traditional Hmong clothing on the red carpet of the Hmong New Year celebration at El Dorado Park in Long Beach Sunday, Dec 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

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Sarahi Apaez is a Long Beach Post contributor who centers her reporting skills on photographs and videos. When she’s not focusing her lens, she’s focusing her balance as she bombs down the boulevards of Long Beach’s streets on her roller skates.
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