In the Facebook Era, Hmong Stick to Traditional Courting

Diana Marcum, Los Angeles Times, January 1, 2011

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In the age of Facebook, the ancient Hmong courtship ritual of pov pob–looking for true love by tossing balls with potential mates at Hmong New Year–is making a comeback.

The tradition had been losing ground to the likes of friending and picking a match off a computer screen. {snip}

But over the last few years the number of ball tossers at Fresno’s International Hmong New Year festival has been growing and many young Hmong say it’s a reaction to casual Internet interaction.

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Brenda Lee, 30, a financial advisor who met her boyfriend last year playing pov pob, said modern forms of matchmaking make Hmong singles all the more eager for face-to-face relating.

“Facebook isn’t real. It makes you hungry for the old traditions. This is a chance to see the person, see if he laughs when he drops the ball. All year, people wait for the new year. They come here from the world over to play pov pob and hope for love.”

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Beginning in 1975, the American government resettled some Hmong in the United States. More than 150,000 Hmong have emigrated since then, including about 30,000 in California’s Central Valley.

This history is made tangible during the colorful whirl of the weeklong festival which ends New Year’s Day. Leathery old men wearing Vietnam-era U.S. Army uniforms walk past young Hmong breakdancers with swooped, choppy and multi-colored hairstyles.

Girls who usually favor jeans are resplendent in elaborate Hmong finery. Some wear the most traditional hat: purple and wrapped high, designed to give the face a heart shape accented by black and white checked ribbon. Others choose boxy hats topped with pink feathers, or wide brims dangling long strings of beads.

It’s a tradition for mothers to chaperone during pov pob. The tiny mothers, stunted by malnutrition before and after the war, barely reach the shoulders of their American-born, college-educated daughters.

Coins are sewn to the costumes of men and women. The jangling of these symbols of hope and prosperity creates a swell of sound as steady as ocean waves, audible even over the Thai dance music, Hmong rap and traditional love songs blaring from competing speakers.

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In the center of the busy fairgrounds, sisters often toss the ball to each other, pretending not to notice the boys noticing them. Boys shove each other, trying to get one of their pals to make the first move and ask the girls to play. In the past it was an excuse to get close enough to woo, and it still is.

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Longer life spans and divorce have added many older pov pob players.

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