SAN FRANCISCO — Laotian Americans from across the country will converge and celebrate the year 2555, year of the Naga or Dragon at the 4th Annual International Lao New Year Festival with a one day-long event on Saturday April 28.
The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the United Nations Plaza and an evening gala dinner, and entertainment from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. at One Ferry Plaza in San Francisco. Hosted by the Center for Lao Studies and the Laotian American National Alliance, the ILNYF is considered as one of the largest Southeast Asian cultural festivals and is expected to draw over 15,000 people worldwide.
The festival highlights include a grand Buddhist blessing with monks from Northern California temples or wats, a multi-cultural unity parade, live cultural performances and concert throughout the day. A main stage promises a potpourri of modern and traditional acts to engage and entertain all ages and generations.
Lao American pop singers as well as cultural performers and artists will grace the plaza stage alongside traditional and culturally esoteric yet important dances and performances from various Lao and other Southeast Asian ethnic groups. Cultural activities such as the Lao green papaya salad or tam makk huung making contest and film screenings at the Koret Auditorium in San Francisco’s Main Library are expected to bring back loyal fans and draw in new enthusiasts.
One of the biggest festival highlights this year will be a Live Professional Muay Thai Championship (or Muay Lao as it is known in Laos) Tournament by World Muay Thai Team USA, featuring Ky Hollenbeck and Mariam Nakamoto.
“Boxing is strictly confined to the use of the hands; Muay Thai is sometimes referred to as ‘the science of eight limbs’ because of the use of the hands, as well as the shins, elbows and knees. While the limbs are primarily used, Muay Thai also uses a clinch when many of the kneeing techniques are implemented,” said Kru Sam Phimsoutham, chief instructor and owner of World Team USA gym.
The Lao people celebrate their New Year, Pii May (pronounced Pii-My) or Songkan Festival according to the Theravada Buddhist calendar, around April 13th, 14th or 15th. Lao people around the world, along with the Burmese, Khmer, Thai, Sri Lankan, and Tai Lue (Dai) of Sipsongpanna in southern Yunnan Province of China consider this occasion to be the most important and biggest traditional festival in the country. Traditionally, it is seen as a day of rebirth, purification and a joyous time for families with well wishes for the upcoming year.
“The Festival is an opportunity for Laotians of all generations to not only learn, but actively participate in the traditions of their heritage,” said Dr. Phoumy Sayavong of the Center for Lao Studies, who is one of the festival’s co-organizers. “The festival also represents the coming together of an emerging Lao American community to celebrate an ancestral heritage and to allow us to open our world to a broader general audience.”
“It is an opportunity to unite the people from Laos worldwide to celebrate pride in our ancestral heritage, to showcase the best of Lao arts and cultures through collaboration, and to educate the general public about the plight of Lao and Laotian American experience in the United States,” explained Sourichanh (Sirch) Chanthyasack, co-organizers and CEO of the Laotian American National Alliance. www.laonewyear.com