In 2016, Saint Paul became one of the first cities in the nation to install tuj lub courts, a move that introduced many Minnesotans to the traditional Hmong game that’s a blend between bowling and bocce ball – a game that, as Almanac’s David Gillette discovered, is much harder than it looks.
Pronounced “too-loo,” the game has 5,000-year old roots in Laos, and many Hmong Minnesotans also played it as a respite in Thai refugee camps before they finally made their way to the U.S. The game is an important cornerstone of the Hmong community’s identity and brings together many generations of players. Senator Foung Hawj accompanied Gillette as he learned the rules of the game and proclaimed, “Tuj lub is now in Lake Wobegon.”
Naturally, there’s a lot to learn about a sport that has challenged players and captivated spectators for 5,000 years. Every 4th of July weekend in Minnesota, Hmong men, women and kiddos from all over the Midwest gather in Minnesota for the annual Freedom Festival, which features a slew of different sports tournaments, including tuj lub.
In the shadows of the Vietnam War, the CIA organized a clandestine operation aimed at halting the spread of communism deeper into Southeast Asia. As part of the mission, they trained Hmong soldiers, who played a critical role in intercepting the flow of supplies to Viet Cong outposts along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Discover more about the operation from the Hmong men and women who risked their lives in America’s Secret War.
Trained by the great Hmong song poets of his time, Kao Kalia Yang’s father, Bee Yang, reflects on the theme of Arts Is… Our Call for Peace: “If there are good things that emerge from wars at all, then it is us, those who’ve survived to dream of more peaceful possibilities.”
Perhaps you’ve seen her mural work in Saint Paul. Perhaps you’ve seen her sketching fresh ingredients popular at Hmongtown Marketplace. Either way, get to know artist Xee Reiter in this story from the event series Art Is…