A woman and her daughter look at lanterns and decorations at a market ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year in central Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
By Karen Ha
Gov. Newsom recently signed AB 2596, which officially enshrines Lunar New Year–historically celebrated by many Asian American students–as a holiday into California law. While the majority response is positive, some Cal students have conflicting opinions on what this means for their communities.
First introduced back in Feb. of 2022, the law enables employees to use “eight hours of vacation, annual leave, or compensating time off” instead of previously relying on holiday credit.
This comes after a dense, catastrophic, and complex history of Asian hate, which has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, an unparalleled amount of racially-charged hate crimes were carried out against Asian Americans, many of whom were elderly and defenseless.
However, before the COVID-19 epidemic sparked the unsurmountable violence targeted at Asian Americans, many students of the community faced discrimination from teachers who failed to acknowledge their cultural holidays at school. Like Angelina Xu, many students are forced to choose between honoring their academics or cultural identity.
But with Gov. Newsom passing this bill, this notorious exclusion of Asian American identities can start to fade. As Belcher, one Cal student, voiced: “I think this is a huge feat for Governor Newsom to have passed this bill because it recognizes the significance of not just our current Asian population, but also the history of Asian people existing in California and in the United States.”
However, as other students have brought up, this law may not be as ideal as it seems. A student who wishes to remain anonymous questions the timing of the bill, “Why now? Asian Americans have been contributing so much academically and economically, but why is it only now that our culture is being acknowledged?” As the state with the densest Asian population and with Asian Americans being the fastest growing population in the United States overall, many students contend the law is long overdue.
Simultaneously, while Newsom’s law seems to have made strides, congresswoman Grace Meng’s bill–introduced back in the beginning of 2022–has yet to be approved by Congress. If enacted, this bill will force Americans to recognize Lunar New Year and Asian American communities that celebrate this holiday on a broader national scale.
Another anonymous Cal student says, “Considering the extent of our contributions, this is the bare minimum. How come aspects of our work ethic and economic contributions are acknowledged, but our cultural identities aren’t seen in the same way? Why aren’t we as a community–as people–celebrated?”
Karen Ha (she/her) is currently a junior at UC Berkeley where she studies English. She currently serves as a writer for The Vanguard at Berkeley, but outside of school, she enjoys reading, journaling, and hanging out with her friends.