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Lunar New Year could be Washington's newest state holiday

Washington D.C. Chinese New Year
Jose Luis Magana
Dancers perform the lion and dragon dances, during Chinese New Year celebrations in Washington D.C.'s Chinatown, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019.

Last month, California celebrated the Lunar New Year as an official state holiday for the first time. Now, state representative My-Linh Thai is trying to make it an official holiday here in Washington.

Thai is Vietnamese and came to the U.S. as a refugee with her family. She represents the 41st Legislative District which includes cities in east King County where Asians make up more than a fifth of the population. While not all cultures that fall under the “Asian” umbrella celebrate the Lunar New Year, Thai says the legislation to make it a state holiday is an important step in recognizing the community.

"For me, it's about belonging," Thai said. "Formalize it as a legal state holiday is one of the way to firmly state it, that Asian-Americans belong to Washington State."

According to U.S. Census data, Washington has the third-highest percentage of people who identify as Asian behind Hawaii and California. Among the Asian cultures that celebrate the Lunar New Year are the Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese communities.

Thai said she celebrates the Lunar New Year like so many around the world — by welcoming home her family’s ancestors. And that means preparing as you would for any other guest staying with you: cleaning and cooking food. It’s a lot of extra work. Thai hopes that a piece of legislation recognizing the Lunar New Year as a state holiday would help broaden people’s understanding.

"I constantly feeling like I have to justify why I need a little extra hour to come home and clean my house. And people would look at me like seriously, 'you still believe in these kind of things?' I'm like, yes, seriously," Thai said.

The holiday would be observed on the Saturday prior to the Lunar New Year – it would not be a paid holiday for state employees.

Raised in Western Washington, Grace Madigan has contributed to the International Examiner, KEXP, and Sip Northwest. She previously served as director for The Evergrey, a newsletter for Seattle locals. She likes to play and watch soccer, cook dumplings and create playlists.

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