The DMV Mongolian American community celebrated the Naadam Festival on July 10th, in Bull Run Park, Virginia. This year marks a triumphant return for Naadam to the region, after the festival was cancelled for several consecutive years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival provided an opportunity for many families to gather and enjoy traditional Mongolian food and drinks, such as the meat pastry, kuushuur, and airag, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented horse milk. It also included traditional events such as Mongolian wrestling, archery, anklebone archery, musical performances, and other activities. Many Mongolian-owned local businesses, non-governmental organizations, and other organizations also participated in the day-long festival. Throughout the festivities, attendees had the opportunity to meet and share food with the Mongolian ambassador to the United States, Batbayar Ulziidelger, and embassy staff.
The Naadam Festival celebrates Mongolia’s long history and nomadic lifestyle. The oldest recordings of the festival go back to the 13th century, when it was mentioned in the Secret History of the Mongols, the oldest literary work in the Mongolian language. Naadam is the most anticipated and enjoyed festival among Mongolians – people from all over the country come together to celebrate their cultural identity and sovereignty.
When Mongolia became democratic in the 1990s, Mongolians started migrating to other countries, including the United States. Currently, more than 30,000 Mongolians live in the United States, with 6,000 located in the DMV area, 8,000 in Chicago, and 6,000 on the west coast. For many Mongolians living in the United States, Naadam is one of the only days in the year to gather to dress in their traditional clothing and enjoy traditional foods, drinks, and entertainment. This year, a Naadam festival was held in major cities such as Seattle, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
The festival comes at a hopeful time for US-Mongolia relations. In an interview conducted by East-West Center Young Professional Batjav Naranbat, Ambassador Ulziidelger mentioned that several officials of the US are expected to visit Mongolia this year. Joe Biden previously visited Mongolia in 2011, when he was Vice President of the United States. The embassy has also played a larger role in organizing the Mongolian community – this is the first year in which the Mongolian Embassy has had a direct role in organizing the Naadam Festival. Additionally, Ambassador Ulziidelger mentioned the process of establishing a direct flight between Mongolia and the United States as an important turning point in the relationship.
Edith Conn is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a recent graduate of the George Washington University Master of Arts in International Affairs Program.
Devin Woods is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is an M.A. Candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), studying International Relations with a functional concentration in Security, Strategy, and Statecraft, and a regional concentration in Asia.
Batjav Naranbat is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a recent graduate of the University of Humanities of Mongolia in International Relations Program.