MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Thousands of people are spending part of their Saturday at the 39th Annual Hmong Freedom Festival. The two-day event is taking over St. Paul’s Como Park.

This year’s festival has the usual fun and food, plus some extra security.

Mee Vang, board vice president of United Hmong Family, says the event has bloomed through the years.

“It’s really partnering up with all different types of people who are just really interested in this event that started out as just kind of a community pastime, but really has generated into something that’s really supported our Twin Cities,” Vang said.

This is her fourth year as an organizer. She says United Hmong Family starts its planning in January, organizing 150 vendors, dozens of sports teams and activities for all ages.

(credit: CBS)

New this year is a private security firm and some extra gear. This move comes after unconfirmed threats that appeared mostly on social media. St. Paul Police Commander Sheila Lambie told WCCO-TV her team wants to make sure the two-day celebration is just that.

“We’ve added some extra cameras that are very visible for people to see. We’ve added other security measures that people won’t notice and won’t know about to make sure that we are doing our best to have a great festival and a safe festival,” Cmdr. Lambie said.

And an all-too important one for the next generation of Hmong families. Valentina Vang’s mom grew up in Laos, but she was born and raised in St Paul. This weekend brings her closer to both.

“For myself, we kind of lose connection with that culture, but then being here and doing this at these kinds of festivals kind of helps us connect back to it,” Vang said.

Festivities are expected to continue well into the night at Como Park. Anyone who comes here after 6 p.m. Saturday gets in for free. Otherwise it’s $7 per person starting at 6 a.m.

Minnesota’s Hmong population is now over 80,000 people.

Christiane Cordero