Indian American lawmaker Jenifer Rajkumar, who led the fight to make Diwali a holiday, calls it a victory for South Asians
Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, is set to become a school holiday in New York City after the passage of a bill by New York State assembly and the senate designating it as a holiday in the biggest school system in the US.
Mayor Eric Adams joined by Indian American New York assembly member Jenifer Rajkumar, who led the fight to make Diwali a holiday, and New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks, made the announcement at City Hall in Manhattan on Monday.
The measure still has to be inked into law by New York Governor Kathy Hochul. But Adams said he was “confident” that she would sign the bill. The new holiday will replace “Brooklyn-Queens Day” on the school holiday calendar.
READ: Lawmakers okay Diwali school holiday in New York City (June 12, 2023)
Following the declaration, Rajkumar tweeted, “My press conference with @NYCMayor today at City Hall. I was proud to lead and win the fight to make Diwali a School Holiday, alongside Mayor Eric Adams.”
The moment represented a symbolic declaration to those who feel unwelcome “that you are part of this city and not considered an outsider,” he said. “We’re now saying New York is made for everyone, no matter where you came from.”
Diwali will be observed this year on Sunday, Nov 12, therefore, it will be a day off from school for the first time in 2024.
â€œThis is what victory looks like. This is what victory feels like. For over two decades, the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community has fought for this moment,â€ said Rajkumar, the first Indian-American woman ever elected to a New York State office.
â€œPeople said this day would never come, but today we stand victorious inside of City Hall. Our time has come, and we have arrived at the table of power,â€ she said
â€œLast Diwali, Mayor Adams and I laid out our vision to make Diwali a school holiday through a city state partnership,â€ Rajkumar said. â€œToday, the mayor and I are proud to stand before the whole world and say that from now on and forever, Diwali will be a school holiday in New York City.â€
â€œSo today we say to over 600,000 Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain Americans across New York City, we see you. Today we say to families from India, Guyana, Trinidad, Nepal, and Bangladesh, we recognize you,â€ she said.
READ: Jenifer Rajkumar pushes for Diwali holiday in New York (January 27, 2023)
â€œFamilies just like mine. My family is like every South Asian family standing behind me today. My parents came to this country from India with just $300 and a suitcase. My mom was born in a mud hut,â€ Rajkumar said.
â€œToday I stand before you as the first Indian-American woman ever elected to a New York State office. And I am also the first Hindu-American ever elected to a New York State office. But most of all, I am a proud New Yorker and a proud American,â€ she said.
US Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), First Vice Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, who last month introduced a bill in the US Congress to make Diwali a federal holiday, also joined the event.
â€œNearly a decade ago, I worked with then-Mayor Bill de Blasio to create a New York City school holiday for Lunar New Year, and when it was finally established, I was ecstatic,â€ said Meng.
â€œI also hailed the decision to close our public schools for Eid. But I also said, what about Diwali? I argued, and have continued to argue, that kids who celebrate the Festival of Lights also deserve to be recognized with a holiday of their own, so they too could celebrate with loved ones, and not miss a day of school,â€ she stated.
â€œSo, I and my colleagues pushed for this school holiday to happen, and I cannot be happier that we are now on the cusp of our efforts becoming a reality,â€ Meng stated.
â€œThe time has come for our school system to acknowledge and appreciate this important observance, just as it rightly does for holidays of other cultures and ethnicities.â€
â€œAnd doing so will further reflect the rich and vibrant diversity that exists in our great city, and how we should all embrace it. I eagerly await seeing the first Diwali holiday for New York Cityâ€™s public schools,â€ Meng stated.
If passed, Mengâ€™s Diwali Day Act would make Diwali the 12th federally recognized holiday in the United States.