Hey Kids, How About A New School Holiday!
The D.C. government, where avoiding work is a high art, has a new idea: Yet another legal holiday!
Last year, Mayor Tony Williams signed into law a measure that established April 16 of each year as Emancipation Day, commemorating the day in 1862 when Abe Lincoln freed Washington's 3,000 slaves and ended human bondage in the District of Columbia. Now Emancipation Day is a day off for public school students and city government workers. In a majority black city where Lincoln worked, that move made political and even moral sense.
Now comes Ward 2 council member Jack Evans with a proposal to declare the first day of each year's lunar calendar to be a legal holiday and thus another day off for all city government and school system workers. The idea is to honor the city's Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean communities with a day of their own. San Francisco and New York have done this already, so why not Washington?
Well, for one thing, the District's Asian population is but 15,000 people--just 2.9 percent of the total, according to the 2004 U.S. Census American Community Survey. That's well under Asians' 4.2 percent share of the United States population and not even in the same ballpark as the Asian populations in the two cities that have made Lunar New Year an official holiday: New York City is 11.3 percent Asian, while San Francisco is 33.2 percent Asian. And New York only went part way: Parking regulations are suspended on Lunar New Year, but government offices are open, workers must work and schools are open (Asian students may be excused from tests on those days.)
Yet Evans easily snapped up 10 co-sponsors for his legislation--the entire D.C. Council except for Vincent Orange (Ward 5) and Phil Mendelson (At Large).
In these times of hypersensitivity to and exaggeration of ethnic differences, a measure such as the Lunar New Year proposal racks up the votes almost automatically. But at some point, a bit of reason ought to slip into the discussion. Several Asian groups are leading the charge to persuade local governments to put Lunar New Year on a par with other ethnicities' holidays. The Howard County Council passed a measure earlier this year prohibiting government public hearings on the holiday.
But we live in a region with good-sized populations from just about every corner of the planet. Each country has its own national day, and every religion has its own holidays. The possibilities could make the Montgomery County school system's snow day policy look tough by comparison.
There's a simple and fair way to settle this: Close government and schools on no ethnic or religious holidays. That way, everybody can do the turkey, the official new year, and your basic U.S. government-sanctioned holidays together, and those folks who feel the need to do their own thing on their own days can take a vacation day.
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