Grace Meng, a Democrat from New York in the US House of Representatives, has introduced a bill which, if passed, would make the Indian festival Diwali a federal holiday. The introduction and announcement of the bill are being made in May to coincide with Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month, and has won endorsements from a number of leading Hindu, Sikh, Dalit Rights, Indo-Caribbean, and pan-Asian professional and community organizations.
The bill, known as the Diwali Day Act, was introduced to the House of Representatives on 15 May and has 14 co-sponsors, including representatives Pramila Jayapal (Democrat from Washington State), Ro Khanna (Democrat from California), and Shri Thanedar (Democrat from Michigan).
“Diwali is one of the most important days of the year for billions of people across the globe, and for countless families and communities in Queens, New York, and the United States.” Meng explained. “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. America’s strength is derived from the diverse experiences, cultures and communities that make up this nation. My Diwali Day Act is one step toward educating all Americans on the importance of this day, and celebrating the full face of American diversity.” (Congresswoman Grace Meng)
Historically, the holiday, also known as Dipawali (Deepavali) or the Festival of Lights, has celebrated the triumph of goodness over darkness and the light of wisdom over ignorance. The five-day festival, which originated on the Indian subcontinent, has been celebrated by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs for millennia. Diwali occurs at the end of the harvest season, between mid-October and mid-November.
The executive director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), Gregg Orton, noted: “The official recognition of Diwali allows for the acknowledgment and celebration of individuals in the Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist faiths. Our communities deserve to be seen and celebrated, and the passage of this act empowers several South Asian and Southeast Asian communities in practicing and embracing their religious heritage.” (Congresswoman Grace Meng)
Diwali celebrations usually include candles and other lights placed around homes. Fireworks are common, and markets or fairs often expand to accommodate crowds of people. For Buddhists, it is an opportunity to commemorate the conversion of emperor Ashoka (r. 265–238 BCE) to Buddhism.
If the bill is approved by congress and signed by the US president, the Diwali Day Act would make Diwali the 12th official holiday acknowledged by the US government and the first holiday originating from Asia.
“As the first Indian American ever elected to NYC government, I am so proud to support Congresswoman Meng’s legislation to establish Deepavali as a federal holiday. 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,” Orton said. (Asian American News)
The president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, John C. Yang, lauded the bill: “The recognition of Diwali as a federal holiday would be an affirmative step in celebrating/recognizing the diversity of our nation.” (Awaz The Voice)
In New York State, a similar bill has been introduced. New York State Assembly speaker Carl Heastie said that he expected the bill to pass by early June. That same bill would also designate the lunar new year as a holiday in the state.
Meng Introduces Legislation to Make Diwali a Federal Holiday (Congresswoman Grace Meng)
New bill would make Diwali a national holiday (Asian American News)
Bill introduced to make Diwali federal holiday in U.S. (Awaz The Voice)
Diwali: Hindu Festival (Britannica)
Diwali gains support to become a school holiday in New York and across the U.S. (Chalkbeat)
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