De Blasio pressed on Lunar New Year

Updated: 2015-03-11 11:07

By Paul Welitzkin and Niu Yue in New York(China Daily USA)

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A week after he added two Muslim holidays to the school calendar, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is being pressed by New York's congressional delegation and Chinese community activists to keep his pledge to make the Chinese or Lunar New Year an official school holiday.

Led by US Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), the entire congressional delegation sent a letter to de Blasio on Monday expressing concern over the lack of progress in creating the school holiday.

"We strongly support the commitment you made one year ago, to incorporate Asian Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha to the New York City Department of Education school holiday calendar," the New York congressional delegation said in the letter.

"We are pleased to see that the school calendar for 2015-2016 does include Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as school holidays. However, we are puzzled and concerned over the absence of the Asian Lunar New Year from next year's calendar. We sincerely hope you understand the community's frustration that students must now wait another year to celebrate with their families or face potential academic consequences of missing school."

In addition to Meng signatories included US Representatives. Joseph Crowley, Steve Israel, Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Charles Rangel.

"There is disappointment (in the Chinese community) for the mayor to renege on the promise he made to recognize the Muslim holidays and the Lunar New Year," Phil Gim, a community activist in Flushing, said in an interview. "Maybe he felt there weren't enough votes for him to do it."

On March 4 de Blasio and New York Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina announced that the city's public schools will close for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, making New York City the largest schooldistrict in the nation to recognize the two Muslim holidays on the official school calendar. In January of 2014, de Blasio said the Asian holiday should also be honored with the day off.

While endorsing de Blasio's decision to include the two Muslim festival as public school holidays, Guodong Zhang, president of the Long Island Chinese American Association told China Daily that he would"encourage the mayor to keep his word. Asian-American kids count for about 15 percent of New York City studentsAt least, Lunar new Year is as important as the two Muslim Holidays."

The mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment from China Daily, but Meng said in an e-mail that she raised the issue with de Blasio at the annual breakfast with the city's congressional delegation last week. She said the mayor told her that no specific timeline has been set yet, though he "remains committed to closing city schools for the holiday."

"I take the Mayor at his word, and still believe that he will make it happen," said Meng. "But we want him to realize that it needs to become reality as soon as possible so that students and their families are not forced to wait even longer."

Gim said the Chinese community is glad the Muslim holidays are on the school calendar. "We don't want to pitch one group against another. Still I remember that as a student in the public schools, it was difficult to enjoy the holiday knowing that I was missing school. I was hoping we could change that."

In February New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new law requiring the city's education department to consider closing public schools if "a religious or cultural day of observance" may result in "a considerable proportion" of students being absent.

Meng is pushing the US House of Representatives to pass legislation to officially recognize the Lunar New Year.

Lu Huiquan in New York contributed to this report.