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Why adding Lunar New Year to NY Schools Calendars is so Vital

On September Ninth of 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation to officially pronounce Lunar New Year to be recognized in all New York public schools. For the one million New Yorkers celebrating this holiday, this triumphant moment gave long-waited acknowledgement. Asian-American lawmakers rejoiced and stated how monumentous the legislation was and will continue to be. On the tail of Diwali being added to the list of holidays for New York City public schools, these pieces of legislation represent a turning point in the United States and a push for the acceptance of Asian Americans in the United States. According to the 2020 census, New York is home to over two million Asian Americans, which is the second largest Asian population in the US. Nationwide, Asian-Americans are also the fastest growing racial and ethnic group. For all those Asian Americans who currently reside in New York, Lunar New Year being recognized as a holiday in all public schools provides even more representation and brings greater diversity to the state. As the Asian-American community continues to grow within the United States, having legislation like this can help create a safe and more accepting nation for all. 


In the rise of anti-Asian hate due to xenophobia from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is of great importance that cultural literacy is constantly being practiced and that marginalized groups like Asian Americans feel recognized and understood in their local communities. Representative Grace Meng who witnessed Lunar New Year recognition recalls how she tried to propose a bill to have Lunar New Year become a holiday in 2009. She was laughed at and ridiculed, as people doubted that it would ever happen. However, now in 2024, the implementation of Lunar New Year being recognized can illustrate how far we have come as a state but also a nation: to understand the importance of this holiday for a large group of people in the U.S and have them celebrate it. 


Globally, over 2 billion people celebrate Lunar New Year, ranging from its celebration in China, where it is called the Spring Festival all the way to Vietnam, where they celebrate Tet, the holiday represents the coming of spring and starting of the new year off right. In many East and South-Asian countries, traditions include dressing in red clothes, eating certain foods of luck and good omens for the new year, and elders giving money to children in red envelopes. Additionally, Lunar New Year can be compared to Thanksgiving and Christmas, as families travel from far and wide to reunite and celebrate together. It is usually a 15 day celebration, and it is symbolized by 12 different animal zodiacs. 2024 marks the year of the dragon. Lunar New Year being seen by New York brings a sense of cultural pride for many Asian-Americans as they get to celebrate in full one of the biggest holidays in their culture. Many giant celebrations and parades occur during this time, and provides cultural education and exposure to those who might not celebrate, giving them more perspective on the diverse nation and world we live in. 


However with the addition of Lunar New Year in New York Public Schools and the call for more states to do the same, many people have started to weigh in on where we should draw the line.  In Massachusetts, some people believe that no more cultural holidays should be added to the school calendar. They believe that public schools should only celebrate state holidays and adjust when needed. Many working parents are concerned about finding child care on these days where school is not in session, as they will still be working. School breaks like winter and spring can already take up all their paid time off (PTO) days and more holidays would leave their kids stranded without anyone to watch over them. Especially after online learning and the pandemic’s effect on education, parents worry that students will also be at school less and in turn, learn less as a result. Public schools are required to have 180 full days, and with more holidays being added, these 180 required days would stretch out more, forcing kids to be in school longer than the usual September to June timeline. On the other hand, the thought of some students not having these days off for important holidays makes them feel excluded in their school, and that they must be ashamed of their culture. Schools will also take away from their traditions and celebrations. While some parents suggest students be allowed to have excused absences if they need to celebrate a cultural holiday, this forces the students celebrating to miss out on important days of school and puts them at a disadvantage that they did not choose to have. They should not be punished for trying to celebrate their culture. Secondly, many religious holidays are already in school calendars and widely accepted without much discourse of their validity. Christmas is one of the most prominent examples, as it is a Christian holiday. If parents want to get rid of excess holidays that are not state related, they must be open to removing holidays that are celebrated by different ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. Furthermore, in such places like Quincy, Massachusetts, the school committee voted 6-1 to approve a 2023-2024 school calendar that did not include Lunar New Year as a holiday. However, the school does give Good Friday off to students. Especially in a place like Quincy, where the student body is 55% Asian-American, not having Lunar New Year as an observed holiday is ridiculous. The excuse of logistics does not line up with the idea that schools and parents must listen to what the student body wants to see and celebrate, especially when Asian-Americans are prevalent throughout communities in New York and in the United States. If we only chose to celebrate certain cultural, ethnic or religious holidays, we exclude and discriminate against those who we do not rank as “important” and leave students feeling unheard and excluded in schools, where no student should ever have to feel that way. We must accept all holidays as important so everyone feels seen and accepted. 


With the passing of Lunar New Year in New York Public Schools, we open ourselves to a new discourse about what holidays should be included in school calendars. To create a truly equitable and safe environment for every single student, the work does not stop with just one holiday. We must commit to education and acknowledgement of the many different groups of people that attend public schools. Beyond schools, we can see how diverse a nation we are, and we need to celebrate our differences and appreciate the different cultures that make us so unique as a whole.


https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/in-the-news/2023/iwen-chu/lunar-new-year-now-holiday-ny-public-schools#:~:text=Originally%20published%20in%20Northwest%20Asian,session%20on%20Lunar%20New%20Year



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