Nkauj Hli Xiong, 17, Andover, was crowned the 2008 Miss Hmong Minnesota. The Runner up was MhonPaj Lee, 23 of White Bear Lake, and Paj Nhia Vang, 18, Elk River, was named 2nd Runner up.
Thousands of Hmong community from around the country and the world converged last weekend on the Saint Paul River Centre for the celebration of the Hmong New Year. For three-days following Thanksgiving, the three main rooms, including the auditorium were wall-to-wall with people moving about the activities.
Miss Hmong Minnesota 2007 Mai Ka Thao was present on Sunday night to crown her successor, Miss Nkauj Hli Xiong, a 17 year-old from Andover, who was named the 2008 Miss Hmong Minnesota. The Runner up was MhonPaj Lee, 23 of White Bear Lake, and 2nd Runner up honors went to Paj Nhia Vang, 18, Elk River.
The other contestants included: Alex Chang, Blaideth Vang, Der Her, GaoLai Lee, KaoLia Yang, Lyla Yang, Maggie Lee, MaiGee Yang, Mor Xiong, PaHoua Lee and Tong Xiong. Yee T. Lee and Tong Yia Lor were the Pageant Contestant Coordinators.
The young women competed throughout the three-day event. On Friday, they gave their formal introductions on stage and took part in a traditional dance contest that contestant. The Saturday events included Best Designed Costume, Short Speech, and a Talent show. Sunday’s competitions concluded with the Judges Questions and a Crowning Final march onstage.
The new Miss Hmong Minnesota will do a lot of volunteer work over the course of the year. As a role model who is fluent in traditional Hmong and American cultures, she will work with new refugee families that have arrived from Thailand. She can assist with translation but also with lifestyle and be a mentor and motivator for children. Miss Hmong Minnesota also serves as a role model for troubled and at-risk children in their counseling.
The competition prizes have improved. Years ago, the pageant winner received a pre-owned vehicle from local dealers. In recent years, that changed to cash and scholarships, as most contestants are students. This year, the prize amounts were said to be a little higher.
Local businessman and investor ChuPheng Lee served as the Hmong New Year Committee Vice President and Program Director. He is also the Vice Chair of Lao Family Community of Minnesota.
Lee said that there were more people than even last years crowd. Both years have been aided by good weather and the ability of people to travel here and stay with relatives.
“This year’s program ran a lot smoother than in the past four years,” said Lee. “I think it is because the communication is much better, and the pre-new year orientation meant everyone knew what to expect, and they know to be there thirty-minutes prior to their performances.”
Minnesota Sunshine Traditional Dance Team won the Combined Traditional Dancing competition. Nkauj Ntsuab 1/2 Nraug Nab won second place, and Hmong Cultural Center took third. There were also competitions in traditional folk and contemporary songs.
There were two dance contests. The traditional dance competition drew twelve teams and the modern dance competition drew four teams. There were seventeen contestants for the modern singers (non-traditional pop but mostly sung in Hmong), and the traditional singers. Mei’s Little China Dance School provided the New Year’s Dance Performance to signal start of the event.
There was also plenty of non-competition entertainment from Mystik Band, which provided support for the pageant and provided background sound for other activities. The Hmoob Ywg Pheej Band also performed. Nancy Lee sang the National Anthem while the Hmong American Military Veterans group served as the color guard.
Wushu Shaolin school offered a performance and Noah Vang provided a slide show on Hmong history.
Big events draw big names, and this years’ speakers included Governor Tim Pawlenty, US Senator Norm Coleman, State Senator Mee Moua, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Police Chief John Harrington, City Human Rights Director Tyrone Terrill, and Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher.
Despite the impending legal fight that General Vang Pao and his associates will face regarding an alleged coup plot in Lao, he was released earlier this year and it was not known if he would travel to the St. Paul Hmong New Year, and event he has attended since it began in the 1980s. He made no exception of this year’s event. He spoke to the crowds on Friday and was on hand Sunday evening to congratulate the Miss Hmong Minnesota contestants.
The festival committee partners include Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association, Lao Veterans of America – Minnesota Branch, Hmong 18 Council and Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota. They work each year to keep the event fresh and exciting with new ideas based on input from the community, elders and young people.
The RiverCentre Hmong New Year is held each year on Thanksgiving weekend. There is also a Metrodome Hmong New Year that will be held on December 29-30. They both have a unique voice, their own sponsors, and attract leaders and elected officials in their respective cities and counties. These two events have evolved individually over 30 years and draw thousands of people locally and from elsewhere here to visit families for the holidays.