Connecting the Sierras to the Hmong Community at Hmong New Year Celebration

  • By Lisa Lee, Outreach, Recruitment, & Workforce Diversity Intern, Pacific Southwest Region
A male Forest Service employee interacts with a family with a table of handouts. Forest Service employees pose with Hmong wearing traditional dress. A man and woman interact over a display table.

The USDA Forest Service hosted an outreach and information booth at the annual Fresno Hmong New Year celebration in Fresno, California, Dec. 26, 2019 to Jan. 1, 2020. Partners included the Central California Consortium (CCC) and Sierra National Forest Fire Prevention Program. The CCC has been providing outreach to the Hmong community since 2000. Actively engaging the community in environmental education, they also do outreach and recruitment to help diversify the Forest Service workforce.

“Building personal relationships with diverse communities helps us as a federal agency to connect personally and communicate effectively with the people who visit forest land. I strongly believe that making us visible to the Hmong community bridges the gap with our forest,” said James Oftedal, Program Manager for Outreach, Recruitment, & Workforce Diversity.

Fresno has the second largest Hmong population in the United States. Beginning in the fall/winter, the festival is celebrated to give thanks to the year’s harvest and to honor the ancestors. Vibrant, colorful traditional wear along with a pageant, games, and various vendors for shopping, it is also a rich cultural experience to non-Hmong attendees as well. In 2019, over 1,100 campfire permits were provided to the 100,000 Hmong New Year goers, as was information about fire safety, fern and mushroom permits, wildlife, and recreation. Bilingual speakers were present at the booth to help communicate information in Hmong.

“Since 2001, fire management has been coordinating with the CCC to help bring the message of fire safety to the festival. We average over 1,000 campfire permits each year here. We are breaking boundaries and helping folks to be more active in asking questions and learning new things about fire safety and keeping up to date with our forest,” said Jason Rodriquez, Fire Prevention Technician.