Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill last year declaring Lunar New Year, which typically falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice, to be a state holiday — a way to “acknowledge the diversity and cultural significance Asian Americans bring to California,” he said in his signing message.
But the designation in California is largely symbolic, because the law as enacted didn’t make the holiday a paid day off for state employees. Low pared down his proposal last year after state analysts estimated that creating an additional paid day off for state employees would cost the state about $80 million a year in overtime pay and lost productivity. (In California, 11 state holidays now come with a paid day off and four do not, including Lunar New Year.)
Even so, Manjusha P. Kulkarni, executive director of AAPI Equity Alliance in Los Angeles, said that California’s commemoration of Lunar New Year was meaningful, especially amid a wave of hatred and violence toward Asian Americans that has escalated since the pandemic began. Kulkarni is one of the three activists who co-founded Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
“It’s about the fact that our communities matter,” Kulkarni told me. “We are being seen, we are being heard, our issues are being recognized, and hopefully they are being addressed. While it is symbolic, symbolism does matter.”