South Queens, NY (June 26, 2023) – Today, State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar (D-AD 38) and New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared victory in the fight to designate Diwali as a school holiday in New York City. It was the final victory in a campaign spanning over two decades by the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community. Now, Diwali will forever be enshrined in law as a school holiday in the nation’s largest school jurisdiction. New York City Schools will officially recognize one of the holiest days of the year for over 600,000 Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist New Yorkers.

The City Department of Education will add the new holiday to the school calendar starting this school year, setting an example for school jurisdictions across the nation.

Assemblywoman Rajkumar said: “I was proud to lead and win the fight to make Diwali a School Holiday, alongside Mayor Eric Adams. The Mayor and I said we would do it, and we did.  I was proud to drive my Diwali legislation through Albany in just one session, securing a historic win for our community. For over 2 decades, the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community has fought for this moment. Today we recognize hundreds of thousands of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain Americans across the City and let them know that they are seen and valued. Today, we proudly say that Diwali is an American holiday and that the South Asian community is part of the American story. To everyone who believed in the power of the possible—whether in the legislature, the streets of Queens, or all around the world, this victory is yours.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said, speaking at today’s City Hall Press Conference: “I’m just really proud of Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar. I have a whole chapter in my book dedicated to you with this pursuit of this holiday: the hours it took seeing the vision. Placing her community on her back. Making sure she sits down at the table of power in one of the most powerful legislative bodies in the country. She brought the issues and concerns of her community. There’s so much that’s on your shoulders and she lived up to it every day more than just this holiday pursuit but just making sure that those Indian Americans will have their voices heard…It meant so much to them and that is why this pursuit was extremely important. This is a victory not only for the men and women of the Indian community and all communities that celebrate Diwali, but it’s a victory for New York. We are now saying New York is for everyone: no matter where you came from once you arrive here you are a part of the New York family…This is called promises made, promises kept. Thank you. Great job, Assemblywoman. Well done.”

New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks said: “What a marvelous, marvelous day. First of all, Assemblymember I want to thank you personally. Your persistence, your focus, your dedication is unmatched. And I just want to say thank you because you together with the entire community made today happen…I’m happy for all the children and the families and the communities of New York City who are going to learn about the depth and the heritage and the history of this community…Young people all across New York City from this day forward are going to learn about the brilliance, the rich culture of the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Jains, the Buddhists… and that will be the great contribution that has been made to our City on this day.”

Joining the Assemblywoman and Mayor at today’s press conference were dozens of members of the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community, as well as elected officials that had joined the Diwali holiday fight. People played the traditional Indian dhol drums. Assemblywoman Rajkumar and Mayor Adams were adorned with garlands in Indian tradition.

In October, Assemblywoman Rajkumar, Mayor Adams, and NYC Schools Chancellor Banks first announced their vision to establish the Diwali school holiday, in a press conference that quickly went viral as people around the world supported the emerging South Asian American community. Assemblywoman Rajkumar brought her leadership, vision and tenacity to the fight. Mayor Adams became the first mayor in New York City history to commit to establishing a Diwali holiday, bringing his deep, decades long understanding of the City’s immigrant communities to elevate the cause. The Mayor put the full force of his Department of Education behind the Diwali School Holiday movement, working with the Assemblywoman to develop state legislation making Diwali a School Holiday.

As the first Indian-American woman ever elected to a New York State Office, Assemblywoman Rajkumar knew firsthand the transformative effect of her legislation on generations of Americans to come, and drove the legislation through Albany in just one session.

Assemblywoman Rajkumar brought hundreds of South Asian leaders to Albany to lobby for the bill at the very beginning of the legislative session in January. This crowd filled the Capital hallways with their now iconic chant: “Diwali! Holiday!” Diwali School Holiday quickly became one of the most watched legislative items of the Albany session. The momentum grew during Albany’s budget season, when both Mayor Adams and Schools Chancellor Banks testified to the state legislature at budget hearings in support of the Diwali School Holiday bill.

Over the ensuing months, Assemblywoman Rajkumar and Mayor Adams forged a diverse coalition of stakeholders across the state for a united effort to recognize Diwali as a school holiday. The Assemblywoman and Mayor engaged with all stakeholders and cast a wide net for support from elected officials. They secured support from dozens of elected officials, the United Federation of Teachers, the entire New York City Council, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, the Speaker of the State Assembly Carl Heastie, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins and New Yorkers of every faith and background.

Rajkumar and Adams led a remarkably people-powered movement. A delegation of Sikh leaders visited the State Legislature donating a ceremonial Sikh sword and requesting the Diwali Holiday.  At the end of the session, a delegation of Hindu leaders visited as well donating a Ganesha statue– the beloved Hindu Elephant God was intended to remove all obstacles to the creation of the Diwali School Holiday.

City, State Legislative Leaders, and Union Stakeholders negotiated until the final hours of the 2023 Albany session to create a plan to make a Diwali School Holiday. During a marathon final session, Assemblywoman Rajkumar passed her Diwali bill unanimously.

Diwali is a celebration of light over darkness, good over evil, and the human ability to overcome obstacles. Originating in India, it is one of the most sacred days of the year, observed by over 600,000 New Yorkers of the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain faiths— faiths which emphasize interfaith harmony and unity. In New York’s South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities, Diwali day is widely celebrated by New Yorkers with ancestry from India, Guyana, Nepal, Trinidad, and Bangladesh among other nations in the South Asian diaspora. Diwali Celebrations occur around the City in October or November of each year, including in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens and in Times Square for the annual Diwali Times Square. From this year forward, the largest school jurisdiction in the entire country will recognize the Diwali School Holiday on the school calendar.

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