The Hmong community of Lompoc celebrated the coming New Year on Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Clarence Ruth Elementary School with festivities beginning in the morning with songs and speeches, followed by a free lunch prepared by the Hmong women.

Festivities resumed at 5 p.m. and continued until 11 p.m. A band from Fresno provided live music as a background for the games and various traditional New Year’s activities.

Lompoc’s Hmong community numbers about 400. The community elders immigrated to Lompoc from the mountains of Laos and from the refugee camps of Thailand in three waves, arriving first just after U.S. troops withdrew from the Secret War in Thailand and Laos in 1975. Some others arrived in the 1980s and the early 2000s.

Many in the first wave were men who fought alongside their famous folk hero, Gen. Vang Pao. Hmong refugees went to other cities as well. Two of the largest communities are in Fresno and St. Paul, Minn.

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A tragic situation still exists for the Hmong who remain in Laos and the camps in Thailand. Because Hmong soldiers assisted Americans in the Secret War, all Hmong people are under threat from the Communist Laotian army, whose intent is to eliminate them.

Also, those in the camps in Thailand are in danger of being forcibly repatriated to Laos, where they will be in peril.

The traditional costumes worn by children, men and women at the Hmong New Year’s celebration were a constant feast for the eyes. The costumes were richly decorated with intricate beading on sashes, with replicas of old French silver coins harkening back to the time when the French occupied Indo-China, and with men’s and women’s fabric of lustrous cut velvet. Traditional headdresses designated certain clans. Many of the men wore two decorative pouches criss-cross on their chests. Both men and women wore silver necklaces hung with cascades of silver ornaments. Many of the costumes were purchased from seamstresses in Fresno who specialize in these traditional outfits.

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