Merced County Times Newspaper
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Merced celebrates festive, colorful Lao New Year


The 2022 Lao New Year was celebrated by residents and town visitors last Saturday, April 30, right outside the doors of Bangkok Thai Restaurant in downtown Merced.

Traditional food and artisan vendors lined the sidewalks along Main during the day as event-goers awaited the traditional ceremonies to begin. The celebration included live bands, delicious food, and even a designated “soak area” where the Merced Fire Department released water from their hoses onto the anticipating crowd.

Water plays an important role in the New Year as it represents the cleansing of the past and the rebirth of a new, fresh future.

The fourth annual Lao New Year celebration was put on by the Vatthanatham Lao Foundation (VLF) and supported by the Lao Association of Merced. The VLF consists of seven founding families; Alisak and Nana Sanayongsay, Phong Vang and Sengsouly Sanychanh-Vang, Khamla & Tia Emanivong, Kham Pheng Emanivong & KhamLa Phomphakdy, Chris & Vongvilay Bounlangsy, Khit Phommavanh & Scott Simmons, and Sue Bangon Emanivong & Marc Mann.

“We could not have done it without the help of all the volunteers, sponsors, and supporters, including the Lao Association of Merced,”Alisak Sanavongsay, executive director for the VLF said. “We have many people and organizations who have supported our event through the years. We would especially like to thank our current mayor, Matt Serrato, previous mayor Mike Murphy, and AssemblymanAdam Gray. These three individuals, along with Merced Main Street Association, United Way of Merced County, Merced County Office of Education, First 5 of Merced County, have supported our event since 2018.”

The celebration also coincides with “Between 2 Worlds: The Lao Experience” exhibition currently on display at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center until May 29.

“Most Lao New Year celebrations around the United States take place at Buddhist temples,” Sanavongsay explained. “Our celebration is one of the very few that take place outside the temples. We believe this arrangement makes our events accessible to more people of diverse cultures who may want to learn more about our celebration, but have not been comfortable to go to the temples. So, we’re bringing the celebration to the people.”

“We are very grateful for the diverse communities who came to join us. It seems there were nearly as many non-Lao as Lao people who were here. We estimated over 2,000 people attended the event throughout the entire day. People came from as far north as Santa Rosa and Sacramento and as far south as Orange County. Modesto and Fresno also showed up in large numbers.”

Donations and fees collected from vendors at the event are used to cover the costs of future events, all organizers for the event also work on a voluntary basis.

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