The last few years have been difficult for Asian-Americans. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, some politicians whipped up anti-Asian rhetoric, while mass shootings targeted members of the community.
"These past couple years, I'll be honest, have just been a roller coaster of emotions for our community," says Nga Vương-Sandoval, a Vietnamese-American activist in Colorado and the refugee project manager for the U.S. Refugee Advisory Board for Refugee Congress. "It’s been a tough three years. What people overlook is that it’s just been tough being seen as the perpetual foreigner in this nation collectively."
But there's now a bright spot in these troubled times: On March 30, Democratic Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez of Denver and Republican Representative Matt Soper from the Western Slope introduced a bill to establish Lunar New Year as an observed holiday in Colorado.
"It's something that I think most people will feel good about supporting," says Gonzales-Gutierrez, who joined with Soper to issue a tribute to Lunar New Year in the legislature earlier this year. "Recognizing and acknowledging our AAPI community is really important."
The bill would not turn Lunar New Year into an official state holiday; that would be a much heavier lift, because giving state employees a paid day off and closing government offices would have required that a fiscal earmark be attached to the legislation.
Instead, the Lunar New Year holiday, which would be observed on the first Friday of February every year, would "recognize the cultural and historical significance of Lunar New Year and acknowledge all individuals who celebrate this significant occasion," according to the language of House Bill 1271. Having an observed Lunar New Year would "allow more Coloradans to acknowledge and honor this momentous tradition and invite the wider community to celebrate this holiday," the proposal continues.
This would not be Colorado's first observed holiday; César Chávez Day is another.
Lunar New Year, a celebration of the first new moon, typically begins sometime in late January or early February and lasts fifteen days. It's a festive time for Asian-Americans and Asians around the globe, who celebrate and share good wishes with one another.
"We wanted to send a celebratory message of something that we have been celebrating for thousands of years. Not just in one Asian community, but multiple Asian communities. It was time to set forth something that would not only be recognized, but something celebratory that would show the extent of this importance, but also an invitation for the larger community to celebrate with us," says Vương-Sandoval, named one of Westword's People to Watch in 2023.
In 2022, California designated Lunar New Year a paid state holiday. Lunar New Year is also a school holiday in a number of American cities, including Philadelphia.
Over the past year, Vương-Sandoval put together and chaired the Lunar New Year Allies Advisory Group, which worked on getting the bill introduced. That group has members from the nonprofit sector, the government world, academia and community advocacy, according to Vương-Sandoval, who notes that there's representation from the Filipino, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Japanese communities, among others.
Vương-Sandoval reached out to Gonzales-Gutierrez about a potential Lunar New Year holiday at the same time that Mimi Luong emailed the state representative with a similar idea.
"If it becomes an actual holiday, it would mean the world to me, honestly, because I was born and raised here in Colorado. The only way I was able to learn about my tradition and my culture and our holiday was through my parents and grandparents," says Luong, who runs Truong An Gifts at the Far East Center on South Federal Boulevard. Luong's parents, who started the Far East Center, first began hosting Lunar New Year celebrations at the space 32 years ago.
"It's very exciting for me," Luong says of the possible holiday. "I feel like this is something that I can teach our community about Lunar New Year and for the younger generations to come."