Last weekend I was invited by my new friend and co-worker to go to the Hmong New Year's celebration at the Fresno County Fairgrounds. I am embarassed to admit that prior to moving here, I had never heard of the Hmong culture so I had a lot to learn! The Hmong are an Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand (thank you, Wikipedia). Apparently the Fresno area has the second largest concentration of Hmong people in the US, with Saint Paul MN being the largest.
Every year the Hmong people here in Fresno have a huge New Year's celebration at the fairgrounds. Below I will take you through my first experience at the event. I was lucky enough to go with someone who is Hmong, so she was able to explain everything to me, and translate when I needed it.
There were booths as far as the eye could see of people selling ethnic items such as medicines, costumes, jewelry, koi fish, herbs, fabric, fruit and vegetables, and musical instruments, just to name a few...
I think this is lip balm. They also sold virginity soap...hmmm.
You could buy some fish for your pond...
Or a beautiful new dress.
Tell me this isn't the coolest hat you've ever seen. These are the hats that are worn by the clan that my friend belongs to.
Beautiful, colorful fabric to brighten up a cloudy day.
Some herbs, each of which has a different healing property. I bought one of these because they say you can stick it in the ground and it will start growing again. We'll see if my (un)green thumb can handle it.
There are 18 different clans in the Hmong culture, and each clan wears a different costume, or dress, for special occasions. This was my favorite part of the whole celebration. All of them were so beautiful and colorful! Total eye candy...I couldn't decide which one I liked the best.
These guys were the winners of the Mr. Hmong contest.
The Ball Game
One of the most interesting traditions the Hmong people have is the ball game, which is their courting ritual. Basically boys and girls stand in lines facing each other and throw a ball back and forth, while chatting with their potential new love interest. There was a lot of that going on. Read more about the tradition here.
Looks like someone forgot to catch this one....
If I didn't have a tour guide, I wouldn't have had a clue on what to get for lunch. For some reason there were lots of stands selling corn dogs, meatballs on a stick and churros. I saw a ton of people walking around eating meatballs, so I thought they were the thing to try...so I did. Although they were quite tasty, I found out later that they were the most American dish there, so I wasn't being very daring. Luckily they were just a little snack so I was able to try again for my main meal.
The most popular Hmong food apparently is barbecued meats and purple sticky rice. We tried two kinds of sausage, chicken and pork, all of which were delicious. The purple rice was good too, and it was so sticky that you could pick up a chunk of it and eat it with your hands. Actually, that's what you were supposed to do. The rice starts off mostly white with a few darker grains mixed in, and when it cooks in the water the darker grains give off a purple color which dyes the white rice.
Here is a variety of fried foods, including fried bananas which we had for dessert. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the banana is marinated in something, then dipped in a sweet batter that contains sesame seeds. It was really good!
Also very popular are brightly colored drinks containing strands and balls of tapioca. They were everywhere! I had one with dinner and liked it...although I have never had a chewy drink before. They serve it with a really wide straw so the tapioca can get through it.
The last thing I tried (that I don't have a picture of) is papaya salad, which is also really popular. Essentially it is shredded papaya with fish sauce and peanuts. It was the strangest tasting food I've ever eaten. Apparently it's an aquired taste. It was cold, spicy, sweet, sour, fishy, salty...I never had so many tastes going on at once. I could only handle one small mouthful, but people who have aquired the taste really love it.
I managed to get a few candid shots of random people that I like....thought I'd post those too!
This is my favorite. The looks on these kids' faces are priceless.
Wish I knew what she was thinking...
Last but not least, a very famous Hmong actress had a booth there and was autographing copies of her most recent movie and letting fans take pictures with her. Below is my friend alongside of Nou Lee...
All in all it was a very fun day. I got to learn first hand about a culture I knew nothing about. I tried new foods, bought some herbs, shopped for ugly fruits (darn I just realized they are actually called Ugli fruits but I like calling them ugly waaay better. Although they are really kind of pretty. Like a limon, what 7up used to claim to make their sodas from), and saw tons of colorful clothing and decor.
Thanks again to my friend Malyna for introducing me to it all!