I spent the first weekend of April in Fresno at the 16th Hmong National Development Conference (HNDC). Two days filled with people (majority of them Hmong) from all over the United States and China. I attended workshops, met many interesting people, had great conversations, and built new friendships.

I heard about the conference two years ago (yes, I have been living under a rock) and took the opportunity to go when I found that it would be held in Fresno this year. The registration price was quite steep for me, but I applied for the HNDC scholarships and was awarded. Such awesomeness!

I was filled with anticipation and anxiety as the conference date approached. I had never attended a convention/conference by myself. I was going to venture into something that I had only heard about and—above it all—do it alone!  But I felt I needed to go to better myself as a Hmong individual: to seek my own personal growth and learn more about the Hmong community.

A rash broke out on my face Thursday, so my face was hot and itchy during the whole conference. I was thinking, “I’m not going to know anyone there. My face has a rash that irritates me so much that I don’t think I can pay attention to anything else. Is my weekend going to get any worse?” Well, it got better. I was relieved to find out Friday that many people I knew were there, especially some of the women I’ve met from an online Hmong women group. It’s nice to find friends when you least expect it.

The conference was a pretty amazing experience. I met many inspirational people doing wonderful work in the community. Everyone at the conference probably had excellent resumes and experiences and for a brief moment, I felt insignificant and out of place.

There are so many people committed to helping our Hmong community that it was just mind-blowing. I come from a laid back, conservative town where you don’t hear much about Hmong individuals or groups actively advocating or organizing to help each other. Or maybe I’m just not paying much attention to the ongoings of my little community. However, to see so many individuals come together to discuss the future of the American Hmong community is an experience in itself. My mind was brimming with ideas and inspiration when I left Fresno Sunday morning.

Mee Moua, former MN State Senator and currently President and Executive Director of Asian American Justice Center, was a panelist for Friday’s afternoon plenary. The topic was to discuss how we can advance our Hmong community. Mee Moua’s closing speech left me speechless. She encouraged the Hmong youth to leave their comfort zone, to leave the Hmong community and make friends with other people so they can take in perspectives of other groups. This resonated so much with me because I wouldn’t have a broader understanding of life and built on my identity if I hadn’t stepped out of the Hmong community for a while. Life has not looked the same since. I only wished all youth could’ve heard what she said.

I have grown more appreciative of my culture and our Hmong people after this conference. I know I’ve said this several times in this blog post, but this was an amazing experience. I encourage everyone to attend. Don’t let the pricey registration fee stop you. There are means of funding your way to this conference: scholarships, fundraising, asking your organization or school to pay for registration. Trust me, you will leave the conference with a whole new outlook and appreciation for the Hmong community and its people.

I took a few pictures, but not enough to showcase the conference. Thanks to Andre Yang for giving me permission to post some of his photos up. He is a very talented poet from Fresno and a founding member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle. Enjoy them! You can view more of Andre’s 2013 HNDC photos on his Facebook (must be logged into FB to view).