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Should Lunar New Year be a federal holiday?

By Ti-Hua Chang, AsAmNews Staff Writer

Amy kept her eight-year-old child home from a New York City public school to celebrate the Lunar New Year, incurring an unwanted absence despite her vigorous emphasis on education.  

The mother of the young child grew up celebrating the Lunar New Year, the Asian holiday equivalent of  Thanksgiving, Christmas and Western New Years rolled into one. As her immigrant parents once did, Amy’s extended family held a Sunday dinner then stayed home the next day.  

Amy is one of some 7000-plus people who signed a petition to the NYC Department of Education (DOE). It demands that when the Lunar holiday falls on a weekend the 1.1 million NYC public school kids get to take Monday off (presently under NYC administrative laws when the Lunar New Year falls on a weekday, public school students get one weekday off, but not when it falls on a weekend).  

“We were here building the railroads (1869) …So we’re a big part of the American culture, we are part of the foundation of it. We are just asking for one recognized holiday … so that our kids and our culture can actually celebrate without taking any sick day or vacation day for it,” Amy told AsAmNews.

She asked that her last name not be used out of fear of reprisal from school officials.

Federal lunar holiday would grant weekday off

In order for NYC public school children to get a weekday off when the start of Lunar New Year holiday falls on a weekend, a federal holiday is required. That is according to  NYC Council Member Sandra Ung who represents the majority Asian NYC neighborhood of Flushing.

“If Lunar New Year was a federal holiday, all non-essential government agencies, including schools, would by law be closed on Monday if the holiday falls on a weekend. However, designating Lunar New Year as a federal holiday is about much more than making sure local school kids have a day off from school, it’s about ensuring that every year there is an official recognition of the importance of the holiday to the Asian American community, which is … an integral part of the story of this nation that should be acknowledged.”

Rep Grace Meng (D-NY) reintroduced bill to make Lunar New Year a federal holiday

Ung noted Congressmember Grace Meng just reintroduced a bill to have Lunar  New Year be a federally recognized, national holiday.  Then when it falls on a weekend, the Monday after would be a day off for all schools, public and private; and all workers, government and private.  

Congressmember Meng is the only Asian American representing  New York in Congress. She recently stated publicly that even the present situation was after a struggle.

“After many years of efforts with the community, we worked with then Mayor de Blasio to make it a reality. So now New York City public school kids when the holiday falls on a weekday they get the day off.  So we’re hoping to make that push national to make sure that one of the most important holidays for the fastest growing communities in this country can also be recognized.”

Passage of Meng’s Lunar federal holiday will be difficult

An examination of Congressmember Meng’s bill reveals that it has not been even sent to a committee for review.

Because of the lack of committee assignment, Baruch College Political Science Professor Tom Halper says, “The vast majority of bills assigned to a committee die. If it isn’t even assigned to a committee it isn’t going anywhere and offering the bill is just a gesture.”   Halper argues one reason the bill has “zero chance of passage” is that most of the country would not care about an Asian holiday. “For much of the country, there are too few Asians for people there to think this was a significant issue.”

Of the present 11 Federal holidays, two honor Veterans and two honor African Americans. There are no federal holidays for the Latinx communities.  This despite Latino voters accounting for 14% of the American vote and 62.1 million Latinx Americans.  The AAPI community totals 24 million.  

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Hope: NYC public school holiday governed by state as wells as federal laws

In response to an AsAmNews request, a spokesman for the NYC Department of Education (DOE) noted by email,  

“ … only state & federally observed holidays have the rule where if it falls on a Sunday you get the following Monday off.  City/DOE observed holidays do not do that.”  

This is potentially significant. If New York State alone passed a bill making the Lunar New Year an official holiday;  NYC public school students would get Lunar New Year off both on a weekend and the following Monday adding to the present New York City policy of observing the holiday when it falls on a weekday.

Is passage of Lunar New Year holiday at state level a path to federal bill?

New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim, who represents Flushing, a decade ago pushed for the Lunar New Year state holiday along with Congressmember Meng and others. He told AsAmNews that with the present dozen Asian American members of the New York State Senate, there is a better chance a state Lunar holiday could become a reality as opposed to a federal one at this time. New York Senate Bill S2351, “Declares Asian Lunar New Year a public holiday.”  It has been assigned to the Assembly committee.

Kim cautioned not to underestimate Congressmember Meng’s ability to get legislation passed. He concluded that the entire process, however long, is, “ … a worthy fight. Because every time a working mom of Asian descent signs a petition,  tells a neighbor why this is important ; the  process itself is very valuable, because we’re teaching non – Asian community members, our neighbors, why this is important to us at a time we are constantly being attacked, dehumanized, treated like foreigners… ”    

California recently made the Lunar New Year a State holiday there. But it is limited. It does not allow State workers to take a paid holiday for the Lunar New year. That would have cost California $80 million. California does have a Cesar Chavez paid holiday. It honors the Mexican American labor leader, who joined with Filipino American workers to fight for farm workers’ rights in the 1960’s.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Please fill out this 2-minute survey which we will use to improve our content. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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