Now Reading
South Asian Americans in New York City Rejoice as Diwali is Set to Become a Public School Holiday

South Asian Americans in New York City Rejoice as Diwali is Set to Become a Public School Holiday

  • The push to acknowledge the Festival of Lights comes as the Hindu American community has raised its profile nationally, both in numbers and in influence.

After a decades-long fight, Diwali will finally be recognized as a school holiday for New York City public schools, Mayor Eric Adams and New York State Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar announced on June 26. The bill still awaits the signature of Gov. Kathy Hochul. While Rajkumar introduced the bill in the state Assembly, Sen. Joe Addabbo carried it in the Senate. Both houses of the state Legislature passed the bill on June 12. 

The push for the official recognition comes as the South Asian community has raised its profile nationally, both in numbers and in clout. Close to 600,000 South Asian Americans live in New York, “making it home to the nation’s second-largest South Asian population, behind only California,” the Indian American Impact estimates. “The New York City area, specifically, is home to the largest Indian American population of any metropolitan area in the country,” it notes. Impact works to build power for Indian Americans and South Asian Americans by mobilizing, engaging, and electing members of our communities across the country.

Adams, lawmakers including Rajkumar, as well as advocates celebrated the passage of state legislation on Monday. Expressing confidence that Gov. Kathy Hochul would sign the bill, Adams said the bill is “made for everyone.” He described it as “a victory, not only for the men and women of the Indian community and all communities that celebrate Diwali but it’s a victory for New York.”

Speaking at the City Hall press conference, Rajkumar, the first Hindu and first South Asian American elected into office in Albany said the announcement was decades in the making and showed that Diwali “is not just a holiday.” Rather, “It is an American holiday, and the South Asian community is part of the American story,” she said. “This is what victory looks like.” She continued: “Today, we say to over 600,000 Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain Americans: we see you. Today, we say to families from India, Guyana, Trinidad, Nepal and Bangladesh: we recognize you.” She has been a champion of this bill, having been advocating for the holiday since she took office and penning the bill prior to its authorization. Adams joined her, as he pledged to make Diwali a school holiday when he ran for mayor in 2021.

The holiday will come into effect starting next year, as this year, Diwali falls on Sunday, Nov. 12 — “meaning the 2023-24 school calendar will not be affected by the change,” the Associated Press reported. 

Since the early 2000s, community and faith leaders have called for New York to recognize Diwali as a school holiday. In 2013, Council member Daniel Dromm introduced a bill to recognize Diwali in the city Council in July, along with 15 council members who co-sponsored it.  In 2019, Dromm issued a resolution calling on the city Department of Education to establish Diwali as a school holiday. 

The long fight to recognize the holiday intensified after Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed he wouldn’t add any more school holidays to the academic calendar. In 2015, he announced school holidays for the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as well as for the Asian Lunar New Year following years of advocacy. A year later, the U.S. Postal Service launched a Diwali stamp, capping seven-year-long efforts by Indian Americans and influential American lawmakers to commemorate the festival of lights The stamp shows a photo of a traditional ‘diya’ lit against a sparkling gold background and the words ‘Forever USA 2016’ written below. 

See Also

The efforts in New York City reflect the broader ways that schools across the country have grappled with when to close for religious or cultural celebrations. Last month, Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), introduced legislation that would make Diwali a federal holiday. “America’s strength is derived from the diverse experiences, cultures and communities that make up this nation,” she said in a press release. “My Diwali Day Act is one step toward educating all Americans on the importance of this day, and celebrating the full face of American diversity. I look forward to shepherding this bill through Congress.” She noted that “establishing a federal holiday for Diwali, and the day off, would provide, would allow families and friends to celebrate together, and demonstrate that the government values the diverse cultural makeup of the nation.”

This April, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill recognizing Diwali as an official holiday. The news was shared on April 26 by State Sen. House Bill 436 would designate the 15th day of the Hindu lunisolar month of Kartik as “Diwali Day” in Pennsylvania. State Sen. Nikil Saval, along with his colleague Greg Rothman, introduced the legislation to make the festival of lights an official state holiday in the state in February this year. n the state House, the bill was introduced by Rep. Arvind Venkat, the first Indian American representative in Pennsylvania state House history. “This legislation is important in that it reflects the increased diversity of Pennsylvania,” Venkat said in a statement. “Our state holidays should reflect the vibrancy of the many cultures that call this state home, and this bill is getting us closer to that goal.”

Meanwhile, CBS notes that in San Francisco, “the school board this fall reversed a decision to recognize Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as holidays, angering many parents.” The resolution, passed in September 2022, called for “further analysis” on how to adequately recognize culturally significant holidays for students.

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2020 American Kahani LLC. All rights reserved.

The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
Scroll To Top