Silicon Valley water agency makes Lunar New Year a paid holiday
Booths at the 2023 Tết Festival in San Jose were decked out in vivid colors, with banners wishing festival-goers a new year filled with prosperity and health. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    California took an important step last year when it recognized Lunar New Year as an official holiday. Now, one Santa Clara County agency is giving it the same treatment at the local level.

    The Valley Water board of directors unanimously voted last week to recognize Lunar New Year as a paid holiday. The move goes beyond celebrating the holiday and highlights the contributions of local Asian Americans, officials and Asian community leaders said.

    “The Asian community and residents helped build the foundation of Santa Clara County,” Richard Santos, a Valley Water board member, told San José Spotlight. “This is celebrated all over the world, and we’re just joining everyone else.”

    The passage of California Assembly Bill 2596 last September officially designated Lunar New Year as a state holiday. The holiday is celebrated over the course of several days, with the first day usually falling in late January or early February. Valley Water would give employees the day off on the first day of Lunar New Year.

    Santos said Valley Water’s decision to recognize the holiday reflects the efforts of employees who advocated for the change. About 24% of the agency’s workforce is Asian American, according to a Valley Water representative. The water district is committed to diversity and was one of the first to mark Cesar Chavez Day as a paid holiday years ago, he added.

    Vietnamese American Roundtable Executive Director Philip Nguyen said recognizing Lunar New Year, or Tết in Vietnamese, fosters feelings of safety and belonging for a community that includes many immigrants and refugees. San Jose, home to more than 100,000 Vietnamese residents, hosts annual Tết festivals. It’s the biggest holiday of the year for many Asian Americans, he added.

    “Having Lunar New Year as a paid holiday… (feels) like our history, our culture is represented as a part of America,” Nguyen told San José Spotlight. “If it’s institutionalized, then it allows us to feel that sense of, ‘Oh, we are really seen.’”

    Nguyen said the hope is for city governments to follow suit. Improving inclusivity also means increasing political representation, he added. Hundreds of Vietnamese residents gathered last month to highlight Vietnamese business owners and draw attention to the community’s political voice.

    Jim Beall, a Valley Water board member and former state senator, said making Lunar New Year a paid holiday means workers no longer have to sacrifice vacation time to celebrate a critical event.

    “It creates a better work environment. It makes us a better place to work for a lot of people that are living in our community,” Beall told San José Spotlight.

    Assemblymember Evan Low said bringing attention to Asian American communities is necessary, especially in light of anti-Asian hate that residents faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Low authored the state bill to make Lunar New Year an official holiday.

    “Now that California has officially recognized Lunar New Year as an official state holiday, it is exciting to see others follow the lead,” Low told San José Spotlight. “Uplifting the AAPI community has been a priority… The community will no longer be silent or invisible.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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