Learning how to say “Happy New Year” in Chinese could prove more useful than ever, as the wheels are in motion to recognize the Asian Lunar New Year as a legal holiday, meaning schools would be closed.
Nearly a dozen elected officials representing all levels of government were on hand at a press conference on the steps of the Flushing Library last Friday, in a show of growing support for recognizing the cause.
Bills have been introduced on the city, state and federal levels to honor the centuries-old tradition, which falls on a different date each year and will take place this year on Jan. 31.
Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Whitestone), who, along with Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) spearheaded the conference, said, “It is an honor to stand here today to call for the recognition of Asian Lunar New Year as a major legal holiday. This is the year we believe this is going to happen.”
Citing the increasing Asian-American population in the city, Koo said, “Asian Americans are also New York State’s fastest growing minority group. For too long, parents have had to decide whether to allow their children to take part in Lunar New Year festivities, which would ultimately lead to children having to stay at home on official school days.”
Among the others in favor of the additional day off was City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan), who said that no one should be forced to choose between “celebrating a sacred holiday or missing school. I’m proud to support my colleagues in this effort.”
Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) recalled growing up in the city and finding it “painful” to have to go to school the morning after celebrating the holiday.
“Lunar New Year is celebrated by well over 8.7 million Asian Americans in the United States,” Meng said. “It’s the most important holiday of the year for the Asian-American community. Students of many other cultures and ethnicities rightly have off for the most important holidays they observe, and kids who celebrate Lunar New Year should be afforded the same.”
Meng noted that the measure was introduced two weeks ago in Congress. “We are still gauging reaction and we are hopeful that it will pass,” she said. “The issue is gaining momentum, and we are encouraged that by the next Lunar New Year, Congress will say that school districts with substantial Asian-American populations should be closed for the holiday.”
Despite the low temperatures and wind chills, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said, “The warmth is here. The determination is here.”
Borough President Melinda Katz agreed, saying, “Our schools need to reflect this community.”
State law requires schools to be open 180 days each year, and the city school system schedules 182 or 183 days. A spokesman for the Department of Education said no decisions had been made yet as how to accommodate the extra day off and that it is being looked into.
Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) indicated that “at the state level, we made significant progress last year when the Assembly passed one of my Lunar New Year bills that would empower local school boards to determine not just this holiday but also any holiday that is celebrated in different communities.”
The Senate did not pass it.
Also showing support for the bill were Assembly members Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) and Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) and Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), as well as several members of the Korean-American Parents Association of Greater New York.
Eager to carry on the new year traditions here are many area residents, including Mei Hui Zhuang, 23, of Flushing, who arrived two years ago from China, where she was a kindergarten teacher.
Doing research in the library prior to the press conference, she said, “America has a lot of Chinese people. Just one day [off from school] I think is okay.”
James Liu, owner of the nearby ABCMath Academy that caters primarily to Chinese students in search of enrichment and college preparation, said, “As the population of Asians grows, they should know their family roots. It is important to adapt to American culture without forgetting where they come from.”