Lunar New Year’s dilemma in New York

January 29, 2014

By Jane Han

NEW YORK ― For the past few years, certain Korean parents in New York have fought hard to get public schools to recognize ”Seollal,’’ or Lunar New Year, as an official holiday. Now that the new city mayor says he, too, wants schools off for the major Asian holiday, many Korean parents are beginning to have second thoughts.

”Another holiday? I didn’t ask for it. Maybe stay-at-home moms want their children home for Lunar New Year, but not working moms,’’ says Nancy Choi, 42, a dentist with two daughters in elementary school. ”Who’s going to watch the kids when we’re all at work?’’

Like Choi, many working parents aren’t welcoming the idea of Lunar New Year becoming an official school holiday.

”There are already enough holidays aside from all the winter snow days,’’ wrote Kim Jee-ae on, a popular online community for Korean women in the U.S. ”These parents behind the campaign aren’t considering people like us who have to go to work.’’

Alice Kim, another mother wrote, ”People should really think about why they’re fighting this fight. Do we really need to have Lunar New Year off when we’re living in America?’’

Advocates think so, perhaps more so because they live far away from their home country.

”Lunar New Year is like Christmas for Asians. That’s how important it is,’’ says Choi Yoon-hee, leader of the Korean Parents Association of New York, a group that has led the campaign for Lunar New Year and Chuseok’s holiday legitimacy. ”Just like we learn something from Jewish holidays, our Lunar New Year has something to teach about the Asian community to other cultures.’’

The parents group and the Korean American Teachers Association of New York have been strong advocates of the two major Korean holidays, even going as far as doing one-day school boycotts.

Also in support of Lunar New Year are certain City Council members, who have introduced bills at the city, state and federal levels to get the Asian holiday officially recognized here.

After years of effort, newly minted leaders New York City Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are taking the side of the Asian community.

”We live in a city as diverse as New York, where our families and cultures represented here, need to be respected,’’ Mark-Viverito said last week in a rally in Queens, an area with the largest Asian population.

”The population of Asian-American children needs to be recognized. So we will be doing a resolution in support of a call for a holiday,’’ she added.

Asian-American students currently account for 15 percent of the city’s public school population.

The mayor said earlier this month that it will ”take time and effort to get this right’’ but that he will ”find a way to get there.’’

While city management struggles to add a new holiday, Korean parents are expected to continue standing at odds over the Seollal dilemma.

”I wonder if there is a point to have a child stay home on Seollal when his parents are at work. Something to think about,’’ says Choi, the mother of two.