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Lunar New Year a state holiday in California? Bay Area legislator Evan Low introduces bill

On the eve of the biggest annual celebration in San Francisco’s Chinatown, state Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) introduced legislation Friday to make Lunar New Year’s Day a state holiday in California.

Low, a Chinese American lawmaker from the South Bay, introduced the bill, AB 2596,  on Friday—the last day to put forward legislation in this year’s session. San Francisco’s highly-anticipated Lunar New Year parade is set for Saturday evening in Chinatown.

“It’s my hope and desire, and in an ideal world, that we could just have the Lunar New Year as a holiday in the state of California to have a day off,” Low said in an interview with The Standard.

“It’s important that we take a moment to recognize the cultural diversity in the state of California.”

The bill will likely face several hurdles in the legislative process, mainly due to questions on which public agencies would receive the holiday and the fiscal impact a new holiday would have on the state budget. But the celebration of Chinese American culture—and Asian American culture at large—comes at a unique time, as anti-Asian hate crimes have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Mayor London Breed and Police Chief Bill Scott held a press conference in January to announce anti-Asian hate crimes in San Francisco surged by 560% last year.

“When we think about the opportunities for us to look at a comprehensive approach to tackling the issue of stopping Asian hate, while also uplifting our community, this falls into the same criteria,” said Low, who serves as vice chair of the state’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.

Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) introduced legislation Friday to make Lunar New Year a state holiday in California.

Low acknowledged that implementation will be a challenge, because the Lunar New Year’s Day, like other festivals in Asian culture, changes every year on the calendar and often falls between late January or early February. Lunar New Year began Feb. 1 this year.

California’s state Legislature has put an emphasis on investing in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community over the last year, as Gov. Gavin Newsom signed off on an  unprecedented $166 million “Equity Budget” to combat hate crimes, increase funding for ethnic media and community organizations, and create anti-bias education programs. 

San Francisco Unified School District currently gives staff and students the day off on Lunar New Year’s Day, and there’s also a bill Rep. Grace Meng (D-New York) introduced in Congress to make Lunar New Year’s Day a federal holiday.