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    Lunar New Year Deserves Recognition

    aphilNext month, California celebrates Harvey Milk Day. The power of this observance lies in its capacity to teach an important lesson: in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.

    Each year on May 22, Milk’s birthday, public schools and education institutions are encouraged to conduct suitable commemorative lessons about Milk’s life, his role in history as the first openly gay man to serve in public office in a major American City, and his contributions to LGBT rights.

    My two girls are young enough to have never experienced the struggle for equality in their own lives. While they will never understand the obstacles overcome by the LGBT community, they must learn that our celebration of diversity is among our greatest areas of progress. This conclusion inspired me to commemorate another part of California’s rich cultural history.

    San Francisco’s Chinese New Year celebration is the largest celebration of its kind in North America and outside of China. It originated in the 1860s as a way for Chinese immigrants, who came to the city to work in gold mines and on the railroad, to share their culture.

    Today, over 2.5 million Asian and Pacific Islander Californians observe the same celebration under a common name: Lunar New Year. That is why I have introduced legislation—Assembly Bill (AB) 2598—to permanently recognize Lunar New Year in California.

    California has worthy observances recognizing important people and issues. We celebrate John Muir Day on April 21 to acknowledge the need for harmony with the environment. We observe California Poppy Day on April 6 to commemorate the instruction and protection of native plants. The second Wednesday in May is the Day of the Teacher.

    As was done by the legislation creating Harvey Milk Day, my AB 2598 would designate Lunar New Year’s Day as having special significance to the State of California and would encourage schools to conduct culturally appropriate activities and exercises in observance of the occasion. It also directs the governor to annually proclaim the date corresponding with the lunar calendar as Lunar New Year’s Day.

    When it comes to Lunar New Year celebrations, we are not starved for choice in the Bay Area. Asian people constitute nearly a quarter of our residents who organize an extensive and impressive list of celebrations that extend well over a month. With millions of Californians celebrating Lunar New Year and many others participating in the festivities, it’s time for the state to recognize a tradition dating back over 3,000 years in China.

    The more we celebrate each other and take pride in each other’s traditions, the more tolerant and successful we will become as a society. That makes cultural competence and celebrating diversity a critical part of our children’s education.

    In my hometown of San Francisco, schools already celebrate Lunar New Year as a cultural and educational opportunity for our children. California’s other children should benefit from Lunar New Year as well.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma, and Daly City.