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Who are Laotians? Merced's Lao educates with 'New Year' celebration for community

Lao Americans share their 'New Year' with Merced community

For the first time in about 30 years, the Central Valley's Laotians, Hmong and other people calling the Southeast Asian country of Laos their ethnic home openly celebrated the Lao New Year with the Merced area community on Saturday, April 28, 2018.
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For the first time in about 30 years, the Central Valley's Laotians, Hmong and other people calling the Southeast Asian country of Laos their ethnic home openly celebrated the Lao New Year with the Merced area community on Saturday, April 28, 2018.

For the first time in about 30 years, the Central Valley’s Laotians, Hmong and other people calling the Southeast Asian country of Laos their ethnic home openly celebrated the Lao New Year with the Merced area community on Saturday.

The goal was to educate the community on Lao culture while also opening up Merced’s Laotian Americans to become more involved in the City of Merced and Merced County, organizer Sue Bangon Emanivong said.

“Normally we’d (celebrate) it privately,” Emanivong said. “But this time ... we really need to get everyone together, get the community together, so they can see that we are a big community and we want to be a part of everything going on in Merced.”

The celebration started Saturday morning with the “Takbaht” ceremony, in which community members give alms and food, to Buddhist monks.

After a lunch feast at Bangkok Restaurant in downtown Merced, a parade started at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Main Street featuring ethnic floats and cultural dancers.

The parade ended at Bob Hart Square, where a program featured speeches by Lao and Merced community leaders. Several performances by local Lao and Hmong groups followed.

Later in the afternoon was the traditional “Baci Sukhan” ceremony, where people tie strings on each other’s wrists for good luck and harmony. A screening of a documentary about Lao art, “Getting Lao’d,” also played.

The community continued the celebration with an evening reception.

“(The Lao New Year) is a way for us to start our year off, clean off all our negativity and start fresh,” Emanivong said.

Merced resident Anthony Xaycosy said the celebration wasn’t only a good way for people unfamiliar with the culture to learn about it, it also helped remind young Laotian Americans about their ethnic roots.

“It’s like proud to be American, but also proud to be Lao too, of our heritage and our culture,” Xaycosy said.

Emanivong, who is actively involved in some of Merced’s civic organizations, said the city’s Laotians aren’t as represented in the broader community as they could be.

“I wanted the elders to see that their own young generation really wants to continue the culture and heritage of the Lao people,” Emanivong said.

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