The largest group of AAPI New Yorkers ever elected to the City Council introduced two resolutions on Thursday, May 19, to celebrate the role of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in New York City in honor of AAPI Heritage Month.
Among the group are four Queens lawmakers — Council members Linda Lee, Shekar Krishnan, Sandra Ung and Julie Won — who joined Brooklyn City Council member Shahana Hanif to introduce the resolutions at an AAPI Heritage Month rally held by the Asian American Federation in front of City Hall in Manhattan.
Resolution 0163 calls on the New York State Legislature to pass S.6359/A.7260 to require public, elementary and high schools to provide instruction in Asian American history and civic impact. The legislation would ensure that students are taught about the historical contributions of Asian Americans to American society, foster respect and understanding of Asian Americans, and allow Asian American students to see themselves reflected as an important part of the history and culture of New York.
This bill comes at a time when hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased by 343% in the last year, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Resolution 0164 calls on the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to establish Diwali as an official holiday for public school students. The holiday is celebrated by approximately one-fifth of the total school population. Despite this large population, Diwali is not recognized as a school holiday in the New York City public school system, leaving students having to choose between celebrating an important holiday or being absent from school and falling behind their peers. The incorporation of Diwali as a public holiday would serve as an embodiment of New York City’s acceptance of its great diversity.
Lee, who serves as vice-chair of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, said she is honored to introduce the resolutions alongside her colleagues to educate others about the AAPI community’s history and traditions.
“Over the past two years, we have turned on the news and seen AAPI New Yorkers suffering unprovoked violence and discrimination that has devastated our community’s safety and wellbeing,” Lee said. “With over 1.2 million members of the AAPI community living in NYC, we have made, and will continue to make, invaluable contributions to this city and nation.”
According to Ung, members of the AAPI community have been making important contributions to the country for generations, but they still aren’t seen as “real” Americans. Ung has co-sponsored a resolution in the City Council calling on state lawmakers to pass legislation by Senator John Liu and Assemblyman Ron Kim that would require public schools in NYC to teach Asian American history in classrooms.
“This will not only educate others about the rich and long history of Asian Americans in this country but instill a sense of pride among our children in the AAPI community,” Ung said.
Krishnan said they’re introducing the package of bills to finally recognize their communities’ invaluable contributions to the city, though they haven’t always been welcomed or celebrated.
“It is also crucial that South Asian children like my own are able to officially celebrate our holidays, Diwali and Vaisakhi, in a way that I was not able to,” Krishnan said.
According to Won, the legislation that she, Lee, Krishnan and Councilman James Gennaro put forth would push the state to ensure that all New Yorkers learn about Asian Americans as part of their shared history and recognize Diwali and Vaisakhi as official holidays.
“We cannot ignore the ignorance that fuels anti-AAPI violence, and we must meet this moment by taking our place in our city to show that we are here, we have been here, and we deserve respect and space in history,” Won said.
Liu, who serves as chairperson of the Senate Committee on NYC Education and sponsor of bill S6359A, noted that for the past two years, Asian Americans have suffered “an onslaught of violence, discrimination and scapegoating due to misinformation and fear mongering” related to the COVID-19.
“We simply cannot allow such harmful stereotypes to proliferate when we know that education is the best antidote to ignorance,” Liu said.
According to Kim, teaching Asian American history and civic impact in public schools will help to combat these and other harmful stereotypes, such as the model minority myth and perpetual foreigner syndrome, which have plagued Asian Americans for generations.
“Asian Americans have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the vast patchwork of American cultures, and I am grateful to our City Council colleagues for supporting these efforts,” Kim said.
Myoungmi Kim, president of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, said the bill proposed by Liu and Kim will commemorate the dynamic role which AAPIs have played in the historical trajectory of the nation.
“This necessary addition to the NYS public school curriculums will provide students with a more nuanced view of history, create deeper connections for AAPI students and celebrate our rich and diverse cultures. Lastly, the designation of Diwali as an official NYC school holiday will allow numerous students to freely celebrate this important religious and culturally significant time with their families,” Kim said. “More importantly, it will recognize and honor the traditions of several major communities which are intrinsic parts of our diverse city.”
Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, said that the resolutions are not only important for the Asian community, but for all communities.
“Educating all of our children on the historical impacts of Asian Americans, and celebrating significant cultural events like Diwali, are crucial steps in building a society where all ethnicities and backgrounds are welcomed with empathetic and open arms,” Yoo said.
South Asian community activist Kahini Chauhan said there is a need to have Diwali as a recognized school holiday as it greatly impacts a majority of students.
“As someone who has been placed in that situation of choosing between school or tradition, there needs to be a balance. Having Diwali as a holiday will enable students to celebrate with family and friends regardless of which day it is. As good triumphs over evil on Diwali, let the voice triumph over the less recognized,” Chauhan said.