Hmong Summer Festival livens up Kiwanis Park

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mai Shoua of Sheboygan hustles with the football during a flag football game Saturday July 24, 2010 at the Hmong Summer Festival at Kiwanis Park in Sheboygan. (Photo by Gary C. Klein/The Sheboygan Press)

Hli Thao waited patiently with her team, watching the field attentively and keeping an eye on the competition.

Thao, 18, from Milwaukee, was a cornerback on the hopefully named Vanquishers, one of hundreds of young women and men who came to the Hmong Summer Festival over the weekend to prove their athletic abilities.

"We practice really hard," said Thao as she waited to take on the Annihilators. Right after that, her next game was to be against the Tsunami.

If it sounds fierce, that's because it is.

The Hmong Summer Festival routinely draws around 5,000 people to Kiwanis Park for authentic, homemade Asian food, a spectacular array of items for sale — from toys and jewelry to fresh herbs and lacy bras — and, of course, the sports.

"Most everybody here are for sports," said Chou Vang, 23, of Sheboygan, as he waited with his wife and two daughters, Julina, 2, and Sophia, 2 months, for his volleyball game to start. "I would say 80 percent of the people here are for sports. This is what it's basically about, playing sports. It's just a way to have fun and it's only once a year."

His wife, however, had an entirely different favorite.

"The food and the vendors," said Pahoua, 22. "I love coming to buy stuff."

Like any summer festival, the main thoroughfare was lined on both sides with vendors keeping their tables and tents looking neat and attractive. And loud Hmong-language music from both sides joined thousands of voices to create a friendly cacophony.

There were tables piled high with sparkly high-heeled shoes, heavy silver jewelry glinting in the sun and bins full of DVDs, many of them American classics like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," translated into Hmong.

One vendor was hawking colored contact lenses, and the food booths were really more like outdoor restaurants, with tents overhead and cloth-covered tables.

From the old men shopping with their toddler granddaughters to the young couples holding hands as they walked and middle-aged people dressed in suits and high heels, everyone, no matter what they were doing, gave at least an occasional glance toward the athletic fields.

Xay Hang, 21, went so far as to dye his jet-black mohawk bright blue for the football tournament he was in with his team, called Team Sheboygan.

It's not as dramatic as many other team names, but there's a good reason.

For one thing, Hang said, "Our city's small, so we want to represent our city."

For another, Team Sheboygan is a new team made up of two smaller teams, the Juggernauts and Unrivaled.

"We knew we weren't gonna win because of the size of the teams," said Chai Xiong, 24. "So with combining the teams we knew we'd have a better chance to take first. And that's what we're here to do. We want to take first in Sheboygan, our home turf."

Carl Hintzelman, 23, was one of the few non-Asian faces in the tournament, but the name on the back of his jersey, "Mekas Dab," which means "white monster," said it all.

"My girlfriend's Hmong," he said. "I know a lot of these guys from cars and work and school and stuff, so I'm good friends with them."

Team Sheboygan was one of only two hometown teams in the tournament, and the other one was a new team that was just getting started.

"Oh, we can beat 'em," Hintzelman said.

Teams compete for cash prizes, and Xiong said the top prize for football was $2,000.

"It's just basically for the team, for us to grow and get better," he said.


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