LA CROSSE, WI -

It's an important celebration showcasing the beauty and culture of the Hmong people.

Saturday, thousands gathered at the CRUSA fields for kids in La Crosse to celebrate the Hmong New Year.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat was there to help with the ribbon cutting ceremony to welcome in the new year.

People could enjoy traditional music, dance and food as well as flag football, soccer and volleyball tournaments.

Organizers said this is a time to spend with family and reflect.

“(The) New Year means it’s time to appreciate the past, to reflect on the past year and to move on to a new new year,” said Dr. Bee Lo, a Hmong Mutual Assistance Association board member. “So it's a time of renewing.”

The first of the Hmong refugees came to La Crosse back in 1976. Now the population has grown by more than 1,500.

For Lu Lee Yang, welcoming the New Year can only be expressed in a song paying homage to a great leader of the Hmong community.

“The great shadow, the Hmong hero,” sang Yang.

He wrote the song in honor of General Vang Pao, the man who helped change the way the Hmong were viewed in the U.S. in the mid-1970s.

“General Vang Pao is the one who helped the Hmong people make the transition (so) that we can be equally important,” said Yang.

Pao was also the man Yang looked up to when he left Laos for the United States in 1979.

“At first it was very hard to leave everything behind, but to stay behind, there would be a severe persecution by the Communists,” said Yang.

At the time he was only 18 -- barely an adult and barely had the skills to communicate in America.

“We didn't speak English,” said Yang. “No matter where we went we had to carry the dictionary.”

He's called La Crosse home for more than 30 years.

“I'm better off now compared to the past,” said Yang.

He said that's in part thanks to the path already paved by Pao.

“You're the great warrior that prolonged a classy road for the Hmong people,” Yang sang.

His English may not be perfect and he may not be a professional singer, but he says on this New Year, he said what's most important is to remind the younger generations where they came from and who helped them get to this point.

“The younger generation can continue to see the Hmong people have a culture that they want to celebrate every year,” said Yang.

Yang's other family members came to the U.S. a short while after he did. He hasn't been back to Laos since he left, but he hopes to go back some time in the near future.

Organizers said everyone from every culture is invited to celebrate the Hmong New Year.

The celebration continues Sunday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.