‘We have felt invisible’: What Lunar New Year as paid holiday means to faculty, students

AB 2596 allows state employees to take paid time off to celebrate the holiday


Elizabeth Meza

(L-R) Kevin Doan, social work major, Hok Tang, Sac State alumni, April Ngai, design studies major and Tiwa Chan-Nguyen, chemistry major on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. “This feels like a historical change. Since we have so many paid, recognized holidays, why can’t we have our own?” Doan said. (Graphic: made in Canva by Elizabeth Meza

Elizabeth Meza

Governor Gavin Newsom signed an assembly bill on Sept. 30 that recognizes Lunar New Year as an official state holiday in California.

The new law, formerly known as AB 2596, allows state employees to take paid time off from work to celebrate the holiday. 

Also known as Spring Festival, Lunar New Year is the celebration of the arrival of spring and a new year based on the lunisolar calendar.

Lunar New Year is an opportunity for family reunions and celebration for the Asian American community. This holiday is widely celebrated in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and other countries. 

April Ngai, a design studies major, said she only recently learned that Lunar New Year will soon be a recognized state holiday. She said she celebrates with her loved ones and appreciates that people can now take time off from work.

“I think a lot of people will be happy to go back home and spend time with their family,” Ngai said. 

Jennifer Huang, a public health major, said she thinks the recognition of Lunar New Year as a state holiday is an important victory for Asian Americans in California and especially at Sac State.

“We have such a big asian population here,” Huang said. “I think it’s good to know the values of your peers.”

Andrew Yang, Student Academic Success Counselor and the first coordinator for the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Center, outside of Lassen Hall Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. The APIDA center is set to launch in the spring semester of 2023 to coincide with the Lunar New Year. (Elizabeth Meza)

Director of Educational Equity Access and Equity Strategist for Student Academic Success and Educational Equity Programs Dr. Chao Vang said the acknowledgment of Lunar New Year is meaningful to the growing Asian American community at Sac State. 

“It’s an affirmation of the contribution that Asian Americans have had on California,” Dr. Vang said. “It also holds cultural and social significance in that it brings together Asian American families.”

With the rise in anti-Asian racism and discrimination during the pandemic, Dr. Vang said the recognition of Lunar New Year as a paid state holiday is a step in the right direction. 

“For many of us, we have felt invisible,” Vang said. “Our experiences are reflected in this state holiday.” 

According to Assembly Bill (AB) 2596, state employees are now entitled to eight hours of compensated time off for every full day designated as a holiday. 

Vang said financial compensation for Asian Americans is an acknowledgment of their culture and presence in California. 

“If it’s a day with financial or fiscal commitment from the state of California, it is a signal that this is something they are committed to,” Vang said. “Having it paid off will remind a lot of us that our experiences and contributions matter.”

Vang also said, though the new year holds a special meaning to some Asian American families, it’s important to know that not every Asian community celebrates the Lunar New Year. 

“Our commitment to Asian American students is demonstrated through our [Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Student Center],” Vang said. “Lunar New Year is symbolic to Asian culture the same way our APIDA center will be symbolic to our students 

Recent Sac State graduate Hok Tang said they are glad AB 2596 got signed into law because it spreads awareness about Asian American culture. 

“Now that it’s more open to the community, we feel more accepted as individuals.” Tang said. 

Tang thinks this is an important milestone for Asian Americans to embrace their culture and traditions.

“People will start to appreciate and understand why we celebrate it,” Tang said. “When people appreciate our individual backgrounds, it allows us to be more willing and accepting.”

Majoring in social work, Kevin Doan said he thinks the change is long overdue.

“We have a family gathering even because sometimes, we haven’t seen them in so long,” Doan said. “This will give us a break to spend more time with family. 

Andrew Yang, Student Academic Success counselor and the first coordinator for the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Center, said students feel most comfortable when they feel represented on campus. 

“There’s not really an APIDA recognized holiday, so, to have [Lunar New Year] recognized, it’s almost like we are being seen,” Yang said. 

Yang said paid time off to celebrate the holiday is a demonstration from the State of California that they are putting in the effort to be more inclusive of APIDA communities

AB 2596, authored by assembly member Evan Low, is one of three important dates to be recognized as California State holidays. Those three days are Lunar New Year, Juneteenth and Genocide Remembrance day. 

“It’s a small step that will pave the way for other communities in the APIDA population to thrive and succeed,” Yang said. It’s a small step but it’s the right step we need to take moving forward.” 

Dr. Vang said the APIDA center is set to launch around the time of Lunar New Year during the spring semester of 2023 in Lassen Hall. This center will focus on providing a safe space for APIDA identifying students and serve as a resources hub. 

Tiwa Chan-Ngyuen, a chemistry major, said he is excited he can finally get paid for taking time off to celebrate Lunar New Year with his family.

“Usually I just request it off for work,” Ngyuen said. “That’s really nice and it shows that people appreciate our culture.”

Ngyuen said he encourages everyone to take the time to learn more about Asian culture and celebrate Lunar New Year when the time comes around. 

“Every year Sacramento has a festival and it’s so fun to go to,” Ngyuen said. “It’s an everybody thing now, not just an us thing.”