Queens Leaders Push for Federal Recognition of Diwali

Over a dozen local officials and community leaders expressed their support for the legislation during the Zoom conference.

By Iryna Shkurhan | ishkurhan@queensledger.com

Congresswoman Grace Meng was joined by local Queens pols and advocacy leaders on May 26 to announce her introduction of legislation to make Diwali a federal holiday.

If passed, the Diwali Day Act will give students in public schools across the country a day off from school and become the 12th federally recognized holiday in the nation.

“A federal holiday for Diwali would give millions of families the time deserved to celebrate together, as well as educate others about the history and significance of this auspicious day,” said Congresswoman Meng during the virtual press conference on Friday afternoon.

Diwali, which is also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated for five days by South Asians, Southeast Asians, Indo-Caribbeans and by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains. It usually falls sometime in October or November, depending on the Indian calendar and the new moon.

Diwali signifies the spiritual victory of light over darkness and goodness over evil. It is one of the most important festivals for religions prominent in India and also marks the beginning of the fiscal year in the country.

Meng chose to announce the initiative during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, instead of in the fall when Diwali is celebrated, to showcase the diversity of Asian Americans. She also mentioned that the introduction of the bipartisan bill is early enough for it to pass in time for the holiday.

“It is high time to recognize Diwali as a holiday in U.S. public schools,” said Dr. Neeta Jain, Founder and President of the International Ahimsa Foundation. “Our children should be treated equally. As our children celebrate other cultures, others should celebrate and learn about our culture as well. This is the only way we can teach children to have mutual respect, mutual understanding and mutual acceptance.”

More than one legislator pointed out that Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. According to Pew Research Center, the Asian population doubled between 2000 and 2019, and is projected to surpass 46 million by 2060.

According to the Asian American Federation, in both Brooklyn and Queens, the Asian population increased by over 120,000 in the past decade.

Meng also mentioned that she is pushing similar acts for Eid, which signifies the end of Ramadan in Islam, and Lunar New Year which is celebrated by several different cultures.

“Today the congresswoman has taken a historic step toward honoring the communities who celebrate Diwali, not only in our city, but all across the country,” said Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education, David C. Banks, during the Zoom conference. “I think that’s a huge, huge deal.”

City Councilwoman, Linda Lee who represents swaths of eastern Queens, recently initiated and passed legislation in the council to make Diwali a school holiday in NYC. In the fall of 2023, Diwali will be a holiday for NYC public schools.

“Given the rise in hate crimes that we’ve seen over the years, I’m hoping that bringing these holidays into our schools will really help at a very young age, teach our children the importance of the diversity of the city and how wonderful it is to celebrate all of these different cultures in our schools,” said Councilmember Lee.

So far, 14 members have already signed the legislation. Meng says that at this point in the process she is working to collect as many cosponsors as possible across the political aisle.

“We didn’t get here overnight. Even a few years ago when someone even mentioned the word Diwali. People were confused,” said Assemblyman Ron Kim, who represents Flushing .”But now we are at a point of ‘Oh, It’s not a holiday yet?’ And it’s because of the normalization.”