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Queens lawmaker introduces bill in Congress to make Diwali a federal holiday

Jun. 2, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng on May 26 announced the introduction of her bill in Congress to declare Diwali a federal holiday. 

Under Meng’s legislation, the Diwali Day Act, the Festival of Lights would become the 12th federally recognized holiday in the United States. Establishing a federal holiday for Diwali, and the day off it would provide, would allow families and friends to celebrate together, and demonstrate that the government values the diverse cultural makeup of the nation.

The congresswoman has also pushed to make Diwali a school holiday in her hometown of New York City, and she continues to advocate for state and local recognition of Diwali, along with Lunar New Year and Eid.

Meng, who is the first vice chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said her bill is one step toward educating all Americans on the importance of the day, and celebrating the full face of American diversity. 

“Diwali celebrations are a wonderful time here in Queens, and each year it is easy to see just how important this day is to so many people,” Meng said. “America’s strength is derived from the diverse experiences, cultures and communities that make up this nation.”

Diwali, also known as Deepavali or the Festival of Lights, is one of the most important holidays for many in the South Asian, Southeast Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities, as well as many religious groups including Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains. Billions around the world celebrate Diwali, including the millions who commemorate the holiday in the United States.

Diwali represents the triumph of good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. While the holiday holds a different significance for various cultural, ethnic and religious groups, the Festival of Lights is universally a time for celebration, reflection, prayer and gatherings with loved ones. 

Diwali will be celebrated later this year on November 12.

Local elected officials such as Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar and City Councilman Shekar Krishnan applauded Meng for taking the movement to make Diwali a federal holiday to Congress.

After making history as the first Indian American woman elected to New York State office, Rajkumar said she was proud to lead the movement for Diwali to be a school holiday in New York City. 

“This year, we saw our entire state speak with one voice in support of recognizing Diwali and the South Asian community,” Rajkumar said. “My extraordinary partner in government Congresswoman Meng is now taking the movement national with her historic legislation to make Diwali a federal holiday. Together, we are showing that Diwali is an American holiday. To the over 4 million Americans who celebrate Diwali, your government sees you and hears you.”

Krishnan, who is the first Indian American ever elected to NYC government, said he is proud to support Meng’s legislation to establish ‘Deepavali’ as a federal holiday. 

“Deepavali is a special holiday for so many South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities,” Krishnan said. “It is crucial that children like my own are able to officially celebrate our holidays with their families, in a way that I was not able to growing up.”

Leaders of local and national organizations also thanked Meng for introducing the Diwali Day Act. 

District 31 Leader Richard David, who is a board member of the Indo-Caribbean Alliance, commended Meng for the legislation that is important to Diwali-observing communities from the Caribbean to Asian. 

“Today is a milestone that demonstrates our visibility, our contributions, and the progress we are making in the United States with the Diwali Day Act,” David said. “This is a bright day for all Americans.” 

John Yang, president and executive director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), said the recognition of Diwali as a federal holiday would be an affirmative step in celebrating and recognizing the diversity of the nation. 

“The traditions and cultural practices that immigrants and communities of color celebrate throughout the United States represent the rich tapestry of our nation,” Yang said. “This bill, in conjunction with Representative Meng’s recent bill to recognize Lunar New Year as a federal holiday, is a move toward ensuring that the diversity of Asian American communities is included in our nation’s observances and narrative.”

Nikunj Trivedi, president of the Coalition of Hindus of North America, said they fully support her efforts to recognize Diwali as a federal holiday. 

“This joyous festival is celebrated by millions of Americans and symbolizes the victory of good over evil and of light over darkness and brings together people from all backgrounds to cherish goodness, well-being, peace and prosperity – things that everyone can value and benefit from,” Trivedi said. “Diwali enriches the cultural tapestry of our great nation and inspires us to pursue the best that life has to offer.”

Dr. Neeta Jain, founder and president of the International Ahimsa Foundation, said it’s time to recognize Diwali as a holiday in U.S. public schools. 

“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,” Jain said. 

 

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