Lunar New Year would be a federal holiday under a bill before Congress

WASHINGTON — The Lunar New Year, celebrated Tuesday, could become the United States’ new federal holiday under a bill proposed by Rep. Grace Meng, DN.Y., a milestone to recognize a day honored by many many East Asian communities around the world.

If passed, the Lunar New Year would become the 12th holiday commemorated by the federal government. The count remained at 10 for nearly four decades with the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in 1983. That changed in June, when President Biden signed legislation establishing June 19 as a federal holiday.

Meng, who is Taiwanese American and grew up in Queens, told The Washington Post on Tuesday that making Lunar New Year a federal holiday would send a powerful message of inclusion to Asian Americans and non-Asians alike. The bill’s prospects are unclear, although Meng said that at this early stage she had not been met with a rejection.

“It really sends a strong signal to the Asian American community – as the fastest growing population in this country – that they are valued and seen as [part of] the fabric that makes up this country,” Meng said. “It also sends an equally important message to those who aren’t Asian American to say, ‘Hey, this tradition and this culture is part of America. “”

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Meng’s bill comes at a complicated time for many Asian Americans: A growing population and increased activism have boosted the visibility and political power of Asian Americans, as has a growing wave of anti- -Asians has led to discrimination, isolation and violence against people of Asian descent. descent. In the United States, the coronavirus pandemic has also endangered many Chinatowns, which serve as hubs not only for Chinese Americans, but also for other members of the Asian community.

Lunar New Year celebrations, while rooted in tradition and culture, have also been important to Asian Americans for economic and political reasons, said Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, a professor of Asian American studies. at the University of California at Irvine.

“Part of it was commercial: Chinatowns were really urban slums because Asians weren’t allowed to live anywhere else — and the Chinese-American community needed an economic lifeline,” Wu said. After the Cold War, Chinatowns and their Lunar New Year celebrations were a way for Chinese Americans to share traditions that were culturally Chinese but unrelated to Chinese socialism.

Meng said the increased visibility of cultural traditions that are widely celebrated within the Asian diaspora could serve as a counterbalance to the marginalization that many Asians and Asian Americans have encountered over the past two years.

“Part of that [bias] is due to the lack of education and understanding of this community which is still too often seen as foreign and not truly American,” Meng said. “And what’s so beautiful about this country is that we can continue to learn about other communities, whether they came here generations ago or just recently.”

The Lunar New Year’s Day Act, introduced in the House with 44 co-sponsors, does not designate a specific date for the holiday; Lunar New Year is tied to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar and falls on a different date each year, usually between late January and mid-February.

The bill was introduced on Friday along with a resolution, “Recognize the cultural and historical significance of the Lunar New Year in 2022.”

Meng said the legislation was still in its infancy and acknowledged, “It’s up to me to convince 51% of my colleagues.”

In an interview, Meng said the bill is similar to legislation she supported in the New York State Assembly as state legislator: communities with large Asian populations that observe the Lunar New Year have seen widespread absences among teachers and students or have forced families to choose between school and celebrating family and cultural traditions.

Lunar New Year has been a designated holiday in New York public schools since 2013. Other school districts across the country with large Asian populations have also followed suit: Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland have given to students on Lunar New Year since 2020, while Iowa City Public Schools has approved a Lunar New Year vacation for the next three years.

“Growing up in New York, we always celebrated Lunar New Year the night before,” Meng said. “We always had to cut the party short because our parents didn’t want us to go to bed so late because we had to go to school the next day.”

Meng’s legislation has been applauded by Asian American interest groups like the Asian American nonprofit Advancing Justice. President John Yang told the Post that recognizing the Lunar New Year as a federal holiday would not only uplift Asian Americans who have long been marginalized, but also send a powerful message that the United States embraces its diversity.

“I think it’s interesting for us to reflect on how federal holidays, especially recently, have been created and what that means for us as a country,” Yang said. “Think about how long it took for MLK Day to become a holiday; and now all of us, regardless of party, take this day to reflect on his legacy.

Yang noted that another important aspect of elevating Lunar New Year to a federal holiday would be to dispel the common misconception that Asians are a monolith. Lunar New Year is perhaps the most inclusive term for the celebration, but it is marked with specific names, greetings and traditions in different countries. And although important in countries like China, Malaysia, Korea and Vietnam, it is not celebrated in Japan.

“Too often, minority cultures get lost in our society and our stories go untold,” Yang said. “Whenever we have the opportunity to tell our stories and tell our narrative – and how that fits into our American culture – we should treat it as a wonderful thing.”

Meng, who once had to cut Lunar New Year celebrations short as a child to go to school the next day, celebrated this year in a way she hopes everyone can come in 2023.

“My kids have a day off,” Meng said. “Last night we had dinner with my family and were able to stay up late.”