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City scope: Lunar mission

Rong Xiaoqing in New York

 

In a city as diverse as New York, you could easily fill an entire calendar year with the festivals, carnivals, parades and ceremonies of its various religions and ethnic groups. But getting official recognition for a coveted spot on the city's public holiday roster isn't easy.

Take Lunar New Year.

For years, resident Chinese, joined by the city's Koreans and Vietnamese, have been trying to push New York to list the biggest Asian celebration as a public holiday. A small victory came in 2002, when John Liu, then just elected as the first Asian member of the City Council, helped pass legislation to list the Lunar New Year festival as a time when the city has to suspend its alternate parking policy, which normally dictates only one side of the street can be parked on in order to ease congestion and allow street cleaning.

But efforts to have it added in the schools calendar, so that teachers and students are given a day off, have been unsuccessful. The Department of Education allows Asian students to take the day off, with their parents' consent. But the dilemma of losing a day's classes is a tough one for an ethnic group that considers education the ultimate priority.

Former mayor Michael Bloomberg, although showing some sympathy for the idea, insisted the school calendar, which already provides 13 days off outside of longer breaks, had no room for more. The current official days off observe mainly Christian and Jewish celebrations or official American holidays such as Thanksgiving. Bloomberg worried that observing one ethnic holiday would backfire as other communities would then want their holidays added to the list.

In the past year, however, momentum has been gathering - and nationally. At the beginning of 2013, a petition on the White House website triggered an official response, although that clarified Congress would have to pass legislation for anything to be done. Such legislation was proposed for the first time this month by Chinese-American congresswoman Grace Meng, who had made a similar proposal at state level as a member of the New York State Assembly before her election to Washington last year. That state legislation is pending.

The city, though, has authority to change its own school calendar - and hopes have been raised with the election of Bill de Blasio as Bloomberg's successor. As a mayoral candidate, de Blasio vowed to add two Muslim holidays to the school calendar: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are celebrated by 13 per cent of the city's 1.1 million pupils.

The proportion of Asian students is similar and, with Asians the fastest growing ethnic population in New York City and the Chinese expected to become its biggest foreign-born population in the next few years, the mayor made it clear at a recent press conference that a Lunar New Year holiday is also on his agenda. "I cannot tell you when we'll get there. But we'll get there," he said.

 

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City scope: Lunar mission

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