My first Naadam was in Southern California in 2011. I hunted down and hounded the Los Angeles Mongolian-American message board to find out where it would be held and it wasn’t far from where I had once horse and house hunted in Altadena.
In a big grassy field, safety tape marked the festival grounds. Giant Mongolian flags were draped from tents and a flagpole at the center of the festival grounds. A local charro rider had brought his slightly lame grey for rides around the park and photo opportunities.
The festival opened with one young Mongolian-American galloping him around the central grounds, waving a Mongolian flag. There were biyelgee dancers, speeches from members of the community (all in Mongolian), singing, a parade of people in their deel, and traditional wrestling.
Khuushuur (Mongolian hot pockets), suu te tsai (milk tea), and mantoo buuz (Mongolian bao) was for sale, but I didn’t partake. I was just there to soak in the sounds and the sights. It was magical to sit in the grass (on a horse blanket no less) and hear the Mongolian spoken by everyone around me, and to witness the families and friends gathering on a gorgeous day. I’d close my eyes and pretend I was back in Mongolia.
I was able to Skype with Agii a few days later and tell him about how I had been to Naadam and told him what it was like. His smile as Heegii translated grew bigger and brighter.
The next summer, we spent Naadam together.
Margaux and Mathilde, summer interns at the UB Post, wrote this great piece about Mongolian-American Naadam festivals and the role they play in galvanizing small communities around the US:
Mongol-American Naadam: creating new culture
I encourage all of my friends back home to experience Naadam if there’s one where you live.