Should there be a White House petition to establish a U.S. federal “Immigrants Day” holiday?

Forget Lunar New Year. We should be advocating for Immigrant Day as a U.S. federal holiday.
Forget Lunar New Year. We should be advocating for Immigrants Day as a U.S. federal holiday.

The Asian American blogosphere has been a-twitter over a recent White House petition asking that Lunar New Year be made a U.S. federal holiday; the petition recently surpassed the 25,000 signature threshold which will require an official White House response. Several bloggers such as Grace Hwang Lynch have written their cautious support of this idea (although Grace also acknowledges that it’s unlikely that Lunar New Year will become a federal holiday any time soon). I have offered my own counter-argument, a view that appears to be shared by Jeff Yang of Wall Street Journal‘s SpeakEasy blog.

This afternoon, I was thinking more about this petition. And it occurred to me: perhaps instead of advocating for a Lunar New Year federal holiday, we should instead have a discussion about establishing “Immigrants Day” as a U.S. federal holiday?

Okay, bear with me for a second on this one. In this country, there are eleven U.S. federal holidays, highlighting and commemorating landmark moments in American history. We “celebrate” (with a fair and arguably justified share of controversy) the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. We honour veterans and military service who served in the many defining wars that America has engaged in through both Veterans Day and Memorial Day. We celebrate the contributions of the labour movement with Labour Day. We remember the triumphs and sacrifices of this nation’s civil rights leaders and how the civil rights movement changed America when we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Yet, not a single day exists to celebrate America’s immigrants and its long, detailed history of immigration legislation and immigration reform.

America is a nation founded by immigrants, including many of the very Founding Fathers who first established this country. The very fabric of America is intertwined with immigration and the immigrants who have shaped and changed what it means to be American in America. In fact, I would argue that first-generation immigrants offer among the most inspiring stories of the American narrative: first-generation Americans are Americans who have chosen the American dream, who have left home and family to pursue the American dream, who have sacrificed to become a part of the American Dream. They are not Americans by accident of birth; first-generation immigrants are Americans by decision.

Many Asian Americans see the current petition asking for Lunar New Year to be made a federal holiday as long-overdue acknowledgement of the contributions of the Asian American community. But, only a subset of Asian Americans actually observe Lunar New Year; by contrast, I would argue that an Immigrant Day would include the entire Asian American community, as well as the narratives of many other communities including many Latino Americans, African Americans, and White Americans. Nearly 13% of all American are first-generation foreign-born immigrants, and of those roughly 1/3 are Asian Americans of all genders, ethnicities, languages, religions, and creeds; still more Americans are only one or two generations away from a foreign-born immigrant who first set down their family’s roots in this country. Immigrants can be found in every sphere of American life, society, culture, and industry; indeed, waves of immigrants have helped to make America the most diverse, economically successful, technologically-advanced and vibrant country in the world today.

Not only would an Immigrants Day celebrate the contributions of immigrants to the American experience, but it would also be an opportunity to remind ourselves of how immigration legislation has evolved over the generations. It would be a chance to remember this nation’s history of racist immigration law, including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act  as well as other race-based immigration laws that restricted immigration into the U.S.; but, it would also be an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate the events that led to the historic 1965 passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which abolished the national origins formula and became a pioneering piece of open-armed immigration legislation that is still a model to other governments, worldwide.

Tonight, President Barack Obama redoubled his call for passage of comprehensive immigration reform. Perhaps, now is the perfect time for Asian Americans to band together with African Americans, Latino Americans, and immigration reform activists to start a discussion advocating for a federal day of celebration and remembrance to commemorate the contributions of America’s immigrant population. I propose that Immigrants Day could be observed on October 3, the day that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act into law.

And, that is definitely a White House petition I would sign.

Update: I created the White House petition. Please share this link: http://wh.gov/dIvd and urge others to sign it. It needs 100,000 signatures to garner an official response.

Jeff Yang of WSJ Reviews the History of Federal Holidays in the Lunar New Year White House Petition

Jeff Yang has written a really phenomenal piece this week for the Wall Street Journal wherein he addresses the White House petition to make Lunar New Year a U.S. Federal Holiday. He notes that the petition has now reached 39,000 signatures, past the 25,000 signature benchmark that will mandate a White House response.

Jeff, like myself, is skeptical that the White House will answer in any way other than “no” on this topic. In addition to some of the arguments I’ve also mentioned in the past, Jeff notes that the creation of the U.S. federal holiday requires Congressional, not Executive, action and that the creation of the last U.S. federal holiday — Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — occurred in 1983 after a 15-year state-by-state fight that still resonates in local politics. Virginia protested the creation of MLK Day at the federal level by declaring the day “Lee/Jackson/King Day” at the state level in “honour” of Confederate generals as well as Reverend King; the day was recently spotlighted in national politics when it was used to force a racial gerrymandering act through state government on the same day that a Black state legislator was absent (breaking an even Democratic vs. Republican tie) to attend President Obama’s inauguration.

Jeff also reviews many of the ongoing state-level efforts to make Lunar New Year a local and/or school-district holiday.

Efforts to recognize Lunar New Year at the state and local level have been afoot for years. In 1994, San Francisco decided to close public schools on Lunar New Year, but this was largely a response to demographic reality rather than political pressure: Given that nearly 40% of the city’s public school-going population and a similar chunk of its teaching and administrative staff are Chinese American, school representatives determined that running half-full classrooms wasn’t educationally feasible or budgetarily sound.

Maryland’s Coalition for the Recognition of the Asian Lunar New Year was able to gather over 6000 signatures to petition for recognition of Lunar New Year as a state holiday; though they didn’t succeed in moving the state legislature, their advocacy efforts are continuing.

And here in New York City, then-councilmember and now Comptroller John Liu proposed and passed a bill suspending alternate side of the street parking for Lunar New Year, which was promptly vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg as costing the city up to $300,000 a day in parking fines. Calling the bill a critical one for recognizing the contributions that Asian Americans have made to the city, Liu mobilized his council peers to override the veto.

While parking regulations seem like a rather small concession, Liu heralded it as an important step toward Asian New Yorkers getting “the same level of respect and attention that everybody else gets.”

“Everybody else” is a muddy term, of course; not every ethnicity or religiousheritage gets a parking holiday, though all the major Christian, Jewish and Islamic ones have been designated as such. But the real battle isn’t in the streets — it’s in the schools.

As Hwang Lynch alludes to above. Chinese American parents have long been enraged that classes continue for everyone else while their offspring are celebrating an important part of their cultural heritage. (After all, falling a whole day behind their peers could mean no Ivy League, begging in the streets, destitution, prostitution, et cetera.) And that’s where the definition of “everybody else” comes to a very sharp point.

New York City public schools have closed for the Jewish High Holy Days since at least the 1950s — again, for largely practical reasons: Then as now, a sizable percentage of the public school teaching staff were Jewish, making it challenging to find enough substitutes to hold classes effectively.

In 2010, the City Council passed a resolution to close public schools for another set of lunar-calendar denominated holidays: The Muslim holy days of Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha. Again, Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the bill, bluntly stating that “If you close the schools for every single holiday, there won’t be any school.” That said, between 10% and 12% of the city’s population are Muslim, numbers that are close to the size of the city’s Jewish population. Asians also make up over 10% of the New York population, though looking only at Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese, the cultures for whom Lunar New Year is a central holiday, the percentage is closer to 7%.

Is 10% of the city population a reasonable benchmark for establishing a cultural or religious holiday as an official New York commemoration? If it is, Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha should be given that status immediately. And, given the continued rapid growth of New York’s Chinese population, the Lunar New Year-celebrating contingent of New York’s population should pass that 10% mark by 2020.

Read the full article here.

So, I think I was plagiarized… by China.

Five days ago, I wrote this post — White House Petition to Make Lunar New Year a Recognized Federal Holiday in Schools — responding to someone who started a White House petition to… well, you can read that post title yourself. In it, I expressed reservations about making Lunar New Year a federal holiday, but argued instead that the sentiment of the petition was best served through action at the local or state-wide level.

The petition and its topic have been making its rounds of the Asian American blogosphere, and yesterday, Grace Hwang Lynch posted her own support of the petition and its goal to BlogHer. In it, she cited Sina.com, a major Chinese news site, whose English language version had also posted an article critical of the petition. Grace quoted Sina as saying:

One could argue that Easter, Passover, and even Ramadan are often recognized by school districts, and that the first two reflect a strong Judeo-Christian bias in the holidays school districts observe. And they would be true. Certainly, there is room for argument that school districts with high East Asian populations should reflect that constituency by observing Lunar New Year and not penalizing their students for taking those days off. But that is an issue to take to a local school board, not the desk of the president.

…. except that was me. All of those words — all of them — were written by me. This is my original post, and the paragraph in question is fourth from the bottom. When I checked out the source article from Sina, I found that my entire post, including title and header image, were lifted word-for-word from my blog, but then attributed to Sina and/or “Agencies”. More gallingly, it was a sloppy plagiarism job. My post ends with a link to the White House petition; Sina chose to edit that out. But, instead of replacing that final sentence clause with something that, y’know, completes the sentence, they chose to delete the petition link, and leave the article hanging with a half a sentence closer.

(Incidentally, my post was published on February 4th at 3:49 GMT. Sina’s post has a timestamp saying it was published on February 5th at 3:57 GMT.)

Now, don’t get me twisted. This is the Internet, and plagiarism is rampant. Hell, I didn’t exactly take that header picture of the dragon that features so prominently on the post; I grabbed it from a quick Google image search. I didn’t exactly post it sourced.

But that being said, there’s something a little disturbing to me about being so thoroughly and unabashedly plagiarized. I mean, I wrote that stuff. All those shares that Sina got for that article? Shouldn’t those be mine?

On the other hand, I guess I’m also a little flattered. Don’t they say that imitation is the highest form of flattery? Doesn’t this imply that the stuff I’m writing is, I dunno, “plagiarism-worthy”? I guess this now puts me in the same boat of other people who have their content unabashedly stolen by the Internets. And, if that includes the awesome creator of The Oatmeal, than I guess I’m in good company.

Folks with more blogosphere/litigation savvy, any thoughts? Because, I’m guessing that the best I’m going to get out of this whole thing is the (admittedly kind of fun) chance to say I was plagiarized… by China.

Update: Thanks to Grace for updating her BlogHer post!