The July 4th holiday weekend marked the 33rd annual Hmong Freedom Celebration, also known as the J4 Soccer Tournament and Festival at Como Park in St. Paul. This year, for the first time, a formal invitation to attend the festival was extended to residents of the Como Park neighborhood.
St. Paul City Council member Amy Brendmoen and staff at the planning organization Lao Family Community of Minnesota issued an open invitation to the residents of the Como neighborhood to visit the city’s best-known Asian community festival.
“I thought this was a good idea just because we had a few years back gotten a tour,” Brendmoen said. “We had some amazing food and amazing time and it kind of de-mystified what was going on at the festival. We were at a meeting with Lao Family and talked about instead of just saying the festival was this coming weekend, why don’t we start inviting people from the community and neighborhood into the festival so it feels like a St. Paul and international community event? So here we are today.”
More than 20 Como neighbors gathered on Sunday morning, July 7, at the main entrance of the festival. This would be the first time attending the festival for many of the neighbors who have watched over the years as Como Park became, for one weekend each year, the proud and loud center of Hmong culture in Minnesota.
Bobbi-Jo Hannu has lived in the neighborhood for more than 10 years and had never been to the festival before. With her 4-year-old son in tow, Hannu said she hoped to learn more about the Hmong culture and expose her son to “something different.”
This year was the second time resident Mary Doran attended the event. This year, she brought her family along: Partner Heather Lewis and daughters Cain and Logan Doran.
“I have not ever come by myself,” Doran said. “I guess I always felt a little intimidated and I couldn’t tell you why. I want my girls to experience another culture.”
Brendmoen hopes that this neighborhood gathering will empower Como residents to return in the following years with their friends.
“As a city council member, I hear sometimes people complain about parking or other logistic problems during this two day festival,” she said. “I think the best way to get over that is to see what an amazing asset and enriching thing this is for our community.”
Related content: COMMUNITY VOICES | Hmong #J4 in St. Paul 2013