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A traditional Hmong sport takes root in the US: NPR

Tuj Lub is a traditional Hmong sport that has roots in the United States. It is played with long sticks and spinning tops.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There are many sports to watch this holiday week – the World Cup, the NFL. But if you happen to be in Newton, NC, you can catch the year’s biggest games in a 5,000-year-old sport called tuj lub. It is popularly played by members of the Hmong diaspora. It’s a bit like bowling mixed with baseball, but it involves spinning tops and long sticks. And Mallory Cheng of Milwaukee member station WUWM explains it much better.

MALLORY CHENG, BYLINE: It’s late in the game. Kou Lee must knock down a whole set of Tuj Lub or his team loses. That’s what matters. And he gets it. It’s a great day for Lee. He has been in this sport for over 20 years. And sometimes you’re not as lucky as Lee, and you have to deal with the heartbreak of hitting the dirt. Tuj lub generally means top. Players use a wooden stick or the end of a golf club about 2 feet long with nylon fishing line attached to the end. And this cord is wrapped around a large spinning top. Two teams of six players compete for eight rounds to try to hit each other’s spinning top. And with each lap, the spinning tops get further and further away from the starting point. And in the third round, the Tuj Lub sit still, lined up.

KOU LEE: In Milwaukee we play 14 teams. So you’re talking about about 8,200 people attending a big event.

CHENG: Tuj-Lub players ages 13 to 80 compete in tournaments held year-round in places with large Hmong populations, such as Oshkosh, Wisc., also just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to larger cities like Minneapolis and Denver – there are permanent tuj-lub courts. And with a growing Hmong population in Milwaukee’s Silver Spring neighborhood, the local park will build permanent playgrounds in the coming year.

SOLOMAN XIONG: I’m pretty excited because I see videos on YouTube. Minnesota has two of them. And then Colorado has one too. And I know there are players in Milwaukee, Wisc. are. And it kind of makes me – why not us?

CHENG: Soloman Xiong is in his early 20s and came into the game early.

XIONG: Every week and every day, when my father was free or didn’t go to work, we just came with him. And then we would meet all our amazing friends here.

CHENG: Ultimately, Lee hopes the new dishes will spread the community’s love for Tuj Lub.

LEE: It became your daily life, you know. you go to work you come back home you eat a little Sometimes you take the kids with you. Sometimes you just go and play Tuj Lub. So it became real life for me. Tuj lub is another sport that is new to the community. So welcome, everyone. We don’t choose a color. We don’t select race. Everyone come and play.

CHENG: The Carmen Playfield is slated to open in Spring 2023, and the tuj-lub players will definitely be out there with racquets and tops. For NPR News, I’m Mallory Cheng in Milwaukee.

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