The Hmong International Freedom Festival returns to St. Paul’s Como Park this weekend with a kaleidoscope of Hmong traditions and food, athletic competitions, and performances.
The annual festival, now in its 41st year, will open at 7:00 a.m. Saturday and concludes at 8 p.m. Sunday. Men and women will showcase their prowess in flag football, soccer, volleyball, foot volleyball (sepak takraw), and other athletic competitions. Teams from Minnesota and across the country will compete for prize money.
“The Hmong International Freedom Festival is a cherished tradition that celebrates our community’s journey and accomplishments,” said Mee Vang, president of The United Hmong Family, Inc., which organizes the event. “It serves as a testament to our unity, resilience, and the vibrant tapestry of our cultural heritage.”
The festival, which always falls near the July Fourth weekend, will also feature food stalls, live performances, and vendors selling crafts and other products. It will also include a beer garden with DJs and a VIP area.
The grand opening ceremony is scheduled for 12:30 p.m., and will feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, state Representative Jay Xiong, and other officials.
Michael Vang, the first Hmong professional soccer player in the United States, will kick off a soccer ball during the ceremony, symbolizing the commencement of the festivities. Vang plays as a midfielder for the Portland Timbers 2 in Portland, Oregon.
One of the highlights this year is the introduction of a halftime show on Saturday.
The festival, which is also known also as “J4,” “the soccer tournament,” and “July Fourth,” was founded over 40 years ago to mark the Hmong community’s immigration to the United States. The Hmong are largely spread throughout their native China and across Southeast Asia.
After fighting alongside and supporting the United States during the Vietnam War, many Hmong people fled Southeast Asia because they were persecuted for helping the Americans. Many settled in Minnesota and elsewhere in the United States.
The festival holds immense sentimental value for Kong Lee, the event’s chairperson. He grew up in Michigan, and fondly recalls how his family marked the event on their calendar every year and considered it a special weekend getaway. It was an opportunity to reunite with relatives from different states and bask in the joy of shared meals and sports activities.
“J4 means a lot to me. It has been a part of my life for over 40 years,” Lee said. “It’s not just a sports event; it’s a chance to connect with my heritage, appreciate our history, and honor the struggles our parents and grandparents endured to secure freedom and bring us to a democratic country.”
The festival is a testament to Hmong culture and fosters collaboration across generations, empowers youth leadership, and preserves identity, said event organizers.
It first began as a much smaller, unofficial gathering, but now draws tens of thousands of visitors from across the country and from abroad.
“For me, seeing the transformation from a community gathering where we used to do potluck to now where we’re supporting all these family businesses is really, really powerful,” Vang said. “I’m really proud to be able to be a part of the planning committee and keep this tradition going.”
Vang said next year’s festival will be free, thanks to funding provided by the state of Minnesota.
How to attend the Hmong International Freedom Festival
When: Saturday, July 1 through Sunday, July 2
Where: McMurray Field (inside Como Park), 115 W. Jessamine Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55108
When: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. Re-entry permitted with a stamp.
Cost: $12 cash only; admission at gated entrances. Free admission for children under 42 inches tall and for adults age 65 or older with ID.
Parking: Street parking, or park at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds (1265 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, Minnesota, 55108) for $10 per car cash only, and take a shuttle to the event. Shuttle service from the fairgrounds runs from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Security check: Bags and items will be checked before entry. Banned items include weapons, drugs, drones, and outside food and beverages. Prescription medication and empty water bottles and coolers are allowed, among other items. More information is available here.
For more information: Visit The United Hmong, Inc. Facebook page.