The months of November and December mark the celebration of the annual Hmong New Years. In the United States, Hmong communities from around the country would each host their own public events to celebrate the upcoming New Year. Traditionally, the Hmong New Year celebrates the end of the harvest season and was a time of gathering and feasting amongst family and friends. Nowadays, most New Year events consist of an entertainment program like singing and dancing competitions, kwv txhiaj (traditional Hmong folksongs), ball tossing, and various food and business vendors selling goods from clothing to jewelry to music and movies.
But we all know that one of the reasons to attend these events is the opportunity to wear Hmong clothes. As a child, I remembered my mom tried to sew my sisters and I a new pair almost every year; however, being young, I was that kid who did not want to wear Hmong clothes! I honestly thought I was not pretty in them and that it was too complicated to wear and take off (especially when using the bathroom). I also didn’t like to wear the Hmong hats because it concealed my hair and I thought that did not make me look pretty. Another reason why I didn’t want to wear Hmong clothes was because some of my Hmong friends didn’t wear it and I wanted to fit in with them. I thought wearing Hmong clothes would not make me cool. Growing up as a Hmong-American, I usually wore t-shirts and jeans and wasn’t used to wearing Hmong clothes that often (maybe once a year at most).
It wasn’t until I got older that I became more comfortable with myself and eventually grew to liking to wear Hmong clothes. Nowadays, Hmong clothes come in all sorts of styles and colors. The variety allows individuals to chose the ones that caters to them and their liking.
A few weeks ago was the Wausau Hmong New Year in my hometown. It was the first year in a long time that I wore a pair of Hmong clothes. It was also the first year that I put on Hmong clothes by myself. Usually my mom would be the one helping me. As I was putting on my Hmong clothes I enjoyed the process of layering on each piece. Each piece served a purpose and you had to put in on a certain way. The process of putting on Hmong clothes is an art form in itself.
My Hmong clothes were stored in a large black suitcase. I realized that I was probably going to wear these only once a year, so why not take them out? They were beautiful –so why not show them off?! For once, I was so excited to wear them. I picked the pair with the most sparkle and jewels embroidered on the fabric. And of course, you can’t forget to wear the money sash because you need that hear those coins jingling!
When I arrived at the Hmong New Year dressed in my Hmong clothes, I felt so proud and beautiful! I could not believe I used to be that kid who did not like to wear them. My mother once said, “You are only young for so long, so wear as much Hmong clothes while you still can.” And she is right. Now that I am a mother myself, I see the value in Hmong clothes and the meanings they hold. When my children grow older I hope to continue this tradition of dressing them in Hmong clothes for the New Years. Hopefully they learn to appreciate their culture and be proud of who they are.