Hmong celebrate new year in California amid tighter security

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California Hmong New Year

Four-year-old Vania Yang peers through her beaded hat to play the traditional game of Pov Pob during the first day of the Hmong New Year celebration at the Fresno Fairgrounds, Thursday Dec. 26, 2019. (John Walker/The Fresno Bee via AP)

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Thousands of people gathered Friday in central California to celebrate the Hmong new year amid heightened security in the wake of a neighborhood shooting last month that killed four people.

The celebration runs through Jan. 1 and features Hmong foods, dance, music and games along with sports tournaments. It's believed to be the largest of its kind in the country and typically draws tens of thousands of people from around the nation.

Minnesota state Sen. Foung Hawj shared a toast with Fresno Mayor Lee Brand for a more peaceful future as the event opened Thursday. Minneapolis-St. Paul has the largest Hmong population of any U.S. metro area.

“This is a wish for 2019 to move away (with) all the evil,” Hawj said as a toast, according to the Fresno Bee.

The November attack on a backyard TV football-watching party in Fresno killed four Hmong men and wounded six other people. No arrests have been made.

Law enforcement was increased at the Fresno Fairgrounds for the new year's celebration.

Police Chief Andy Hall told the families of the four slain men, that police are committed to finding the killers, the Bee reported.

"We will not rest until justice is done,” Hall said.

Hmong fought for the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Recruited by the CIA in Laos to fend off communist forces, they helped guide U.S. bombing missions and rescued downed American pilots, often risking their own lives.

After the war, many Hmong refugees moved to Minnesota, Wisconsin and California, where they settled in the Central Valley, Sponsors hoped they could find work there given their agricultural background.

There are about 300,000 Hmong in the U.S. California has the most of any state and Fresno has the nation’s second-largest concentration with about 34,000 people.