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Transcript: Mayor Adams Makes Education-Related Announcement

June 26, 2023

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New York Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar: Good morning, everyone.

Audience: Good morning.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Diwali!

Audience: Holiday! 

Assembly Member Rajkumar: This is what victory looks like. This is what victory feels like. For over two decades, the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community has fought for this moment. People said this day would never come, but today we stand victorious inside of City Hall. Our time has come, and we have arrived at the table of power.

Last Diwali, Mayor Adams and I laid out our vision to make Diwali a school holiday through a city state partnership. We said we would do it, and we did. I thank Mayor Adams for being the first and only mayor in the history of our city to elevate the Diwali school holiday cause and put the force of his administration behind it.

Last Diwali, the mayor and I announced our city and state partnership to create this Diwali school holiday, and we saw it all the way through to victory today. Today, the mayor and I are proud to stand before the whole world and say that from now on and forever, Diwali will be a school holiday in New York City.


Ladies and gentlemen, it is to be enshrined in law. Diwali, at last, will be a holiday in our great city. So today we say to over 600,000 Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain Americans across New York City, we see you. Today we say to families from India, Guyana, Trinidad, Nepal, and Bangladesh, we recognize you. Families just like mine. My family is like every South Asian family standing behind me today. My parents came to this country from India with just $300 and a suitcase. My mom was born in a mud hut.

Today I stand before you as the first Indian-American woman ever elected to a New York State office. And I am also the first Hindu-American ever elected to a New York State office. But most of all, I am a proud New Yorker and a proud American. The great Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to serve in the United States Congress. The first Black woman to run for president. She once was a State Assembly woman also. And she said, "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair."

As the first elected of our community, I picked up my folding chair and went to Albany to make a place for us at the table of power and to fight for our community to be seen. When I was in Albany, my mom called me every day. And in every phone call, my mom said, "I have one question. Is Diwali going to be a school holiday this year? Are you going to pass your bill to make Diwali a school holiday? Make sure you get that bill passed," said my mom.

And I said, "Mom, I'm working on it. I'm going to try." My mom's daily call was the call of our entire community. It was the same phone call that many of you standing here made to me. It was the question every South Asian and Indo-Caribbean family has been asking for over two decades. "When will Diwali be a school holiday? When will we be seen and heard and recognized as part of the gorgeous mosaic that is our city and country?"

Even though I was the only Indian woman elected in Albany, I was never alone in the fight. Our community was never alone. There was a force lifting us up. There was a force that said, "I hear you. I will elevate you. I won't let you fail." That force was New York City Mayor Eric Adams. When everyone else told us, "No, Diwali will not be possible," Mayor Adams said, "Yes, Diwali is possible." The mayor said, "We must come from a place of possibility, not from a place of deficit."

And last Diwali, he said, "Yes, we are going to make Diwali a school holiday." The mayor actually calls this The City of Yes. He said, "Yes we can, and yes, we will make Diwali a school holiday." And he said, "Not only is Diwali possible, but your community is possible." He put his entire Department of Education and his administration behind the Diwali cause.

He made it clear that the South Asian community is a priority and that our community is important to him. He stood up for us. He told every stakeholder in this state that now, and not later, is the time for the Diwali holiday. How remarkable to have such a leader who really sees us. I know it comes from his character and also from his deep understanding of our city's immigrant communities.

Many of us here have seen him deep in the ethnic neighborhoods of our city at all hours of the day and night, connecting with immigrant communities. On behalf of every South Asian and immigrant family like mine across the city, thank you, Mayor Adams. Our entire community comes together with gratitude for your leadership. And look where we are today. Myself and these great leaders of the South Asian community are standing here inside City Hall. We have never had the doors of City Hall thrown open to us in such a way by any mayor in history. The mayor saw us when others did not, and now a grateful community sees him and extends its gratitude.

On the streets, they actually call him the Hindu mayor. He does it all. The plant-based diet, meditation, he throws colors on Holi. Yoga. And he was the first mayor to ever tell the story of Sita and Rama from the ancient Ramayana. He's a regular at Sikh temple also. Truly fits the bill. So with the mayor's support, my bill to make Diwali school holiday did pass through Albany unanimously. And so many of my colleagues here today from the state legislature shared that special historic moment with us, as we all came together in the state legislature to speak with one voice in support of the Diwali school holiday.

And I thank my incredible colleagues for helping lift up the Diwali cause. So I join with Mayor Adams to say that from this year, 2023, and forever forward, New York City, the largest school jurisdiction in the nation, will recognize the Diwali school holiday.

Today, we proudly say that Diwali is not just a holiday. It is an American holiday, and the South Asian community is part of the American story. Indeed, Hindu, Sikhs, and Buddhists have an important place in the civil rights tradition of America. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself once said that India's Gandhi was the guiding light of his movement of nonviolent social change in the Montgomery bus boycotts.

Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists do not just believe in tolerance. They believe in one step more than tolerance, actively loving your neighbor of a different background as if they are your own family. Hindus believe that God has many forms. God can be Ganesha. God can be the goddess Durga. God can be Jesus. God can be Allah. And it's this culture of inclusivity and love that our city and state honors by establishing Diwali school holiday.

It is those same South Asian values that brought me to this place of victory. My dad once told me that if you want to succeed, you have to be like Arjuna from the Mahabharata. There were five Pandava brothers and they had to shoot a bird with bows and arrows. But only one Pandava brother could shoot the bird. And that was Arjuna. And when asked how he did it, Arjuna said, "I saw only the eye of the bird." I focused on the eye, and that is how we got the Diwali bill through Albany in just one session.

And my dad would also tell me the story of Diwali itself. Our hero, Lord Ram, defeated Ravana, the demon king. But Ram could not do it alone. Ram needed friends and allies. He needed Hanuman, an army of monkeys and bears. The lesson is that to accomplish any great feat, you can't do it alone. You need each other. I followed Ram's teachings and with others across the state, we collaborated, and that is how we achieved this victory.

Diwali celebrates Ram's victory. And this Diwali, we will celebrate our victory. So Mayor Adams, I think your Diwali celebration will be so big this year that Gracie Mansion won't be big enough, and you might want to rent out Madison Square Garden. Standing with me today on these stairs are community leaders who are the pillars of the South Asian community. They embody excellence. As first-generation Americans, we bring the excellence. An Indian kid wins the spelling bee every single year. As Indian Americans, we bring excellence to the job. Excellence is what we do. Excellence is who we are. And now we are bringing that Indian excellence to American politics and public service. And that's how we got Diwali done. And it's just the beginning.

Neeta Bhasin is here who runs the historic Diwali Times Square every year. And this year, it will be the biggest Diwali celebration we have ever seen in Times Square. Romeo Hitlall is here, the Hanuman of our community. He runs the Phagwah Parade in Richmond Hill. Dr. Ravi Goyal, a revered leader of our Hindu community in Queens, is here. Balwinder Singh Bajwa is here, a renowned Punjabi and Sikh leader. Amit Shah, one of our most beloved Nepali leaders, is here.

To all the pundits and spiritual leaders who are here, thank you for bringing your faith-based service to our city and state. I would also like to especially thank a few key members of the mayor's very own team. New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks. He was rock solid and unwavering in his support for Diwali school holiday. Chief Advisor to the mayor, the one and only chaplain, Ingrid Lewis-Martin, who always believed in us and Diwali. Mark Treyger from the New York City Department of Education, who was a constant resource and passionate supporter for the Diwali School holiday. Chris Ellis of the city's State Legislative Affairs team who supported it all session, Diane Savino, who supported Diwali all session long in Albany, Sookranie Dhanpat, the mayor's incredible South Asian liaison, and legislators all here today who lifted up the Diwali cause. We did what everyone said was impossible, so imagine what we can do next session, build more housing, invest in mental healthcare, lift families out of poverty through common sense measures. I will have the privilege of introducing all of my colleagues very soon, but I would also like to thank Speaker Carl Heastie, who I spoke with just before this, who lifted up our Diwali cause in Albany. And City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who wanted me to convey her incredible excitement for what we have achieved together.

But now without further ado, please join me in welcoming and thanking the 110th mayor of New York City. God told him years ago he would be mayor. He rose from poverty to be one of the most powerful people in the country, and it was only through his hard work, grit and determination. And as South Asian Americans, we know something about that. Please join me in welcoming and thanking the mayor of New York City, our great leader and the greatest champion for Diwali school holiday in the country. A friend to all emerging new American communities, the leader who lifted up our community when no one else did and who made Diwali day possible. Our South Asian mayor, our very own Hindu mayor, also known as the 110th mayor of New York City, Eric Adams.

Mayor Eric Adams: I love New York. And I see my good friend, Senator Joe Addabbo as well, who carried the bill in the Senate. I'm just really proud of Assemblywoman Rajkumar. And history, I have a whole chapter in my book dedicated to you in this pursuit of this holiday. The hours it took, seeing the vision, placing her community on her back and 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, and just a real leader, coming in the spirit of Shirley Chisholm, of being the first. 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.

We do a series of flag raisings down at Bowling Green and the team reminds me all the time that many of our communities have never had their flag raised there. When we became mayor last year, over and over again, it was the first time their flag was raised, over and over. They would come and tell me, "No one even thought about raising our flag here at Bowling Green." Being mayor of this city is substantive and symbolic. Those items must go together. Yes, we must do those substantive things to keep the city safe, to keep the productivity, to make sure businesses are here, that we build housing, that we take homeless people off our streets and give them the dignity they deserve. That we ensure we settle fair union contracts for those who are keeping our city open. But there are the symbolic things that say, "You are welcome." They're the things that we must do to tell those who feel intimidated by government, that you are part of this city and not considered an outsider.

And that was what Chancellor Banks had in mind when we sat down and stated, "How do we get this done?" How do we tell a community that for so many years we're stating, "We believe that this holiday is so important to our families and to our children." And the chancellor and his team, Mark Treyger, sat down and came up with a way to move it forward. But our idea of moving it forward could not accomplish the task alone. We had real partners in Albany with Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and the Speaker, Assemblyman Carl Heastie, as well as the other partners who were there, our local electeds who went to Albany with all that they had to do of the substantive things, they said, "We must also do the symbolic acts also." And I see them here now and I want to thank them for assisting in this endeavor, the partnership that we needed to make this happen in a real way.

This holiday means so much to the community. And as I moved throughout the community, I heard over and over again, as you said, your mother said, "Will we get the bill passed?" Our first arrival of Indian Americans wanted something to hold onto and it meant so much to them, and that is why this pursuit was extremely important and it was something that we believe we could get done with the help of our colleagues both in the state and in the city. City Council members, some of them standing here today, led their voices to this, although they could not vote on the issue, their voices played such an important role. And then with the support of our county leader, Brooklyn County Leader, Assemblywoman Bichotte, who made it clear that she was going to bring her support to this issue. And when you look at the combined effects, we cannot say enough thank-yous to all those who played a significant role.

And so today, I'm proud that the State Assembly and the State Senate have passed the bill making Diwali a New York City Public School holiday. And we feel confident that the governor is going to sign this bill into law. This is a victory, not only from the men and women of the Indian community and all communities that celebrate Diwali, but it's a victory for New York. New York continues to lead the way. We had a city that certain things were allowed for certain groups. Everything from, Open Streets were only for Manhattan, now it's the five boroughs. All those items that were just unique to certain parts of the city, certain parts of the people who are here, we are now saying New York is made for everyone. No matter where you came from, once you arrive here you are part of the New York family and the New York experience, that is our concern.

No one knows this better than African Americans. Our long fight in pursuit to get Dr. King a holiday, many states push back and argued, we marched, we fought, we talked. And it is only significant for this moment that we do the comparison and analogy of what Gandhi meant to Dr. King. We're saying, Dr. King meant a lot to Gandhi, and Gandhi meant a lot to Dr. King, and we need each other in a very symbolic and substantive way. This victory will allow those who did not feel seen and did not feel heard, we are saying, "We see you, we hear you, we respect you and your culture is part of the New York experience."

This is a city that's continuously changing, continuously welcoming communities from all over the world. Our school calendar must reflect the new reality on the ground. It cannot reflect the absence of those who are not being acknowledged. And we do it within the restraints of having a calendar that we must respect by law and we will continue to do so. The reality of the diverse communities that makes us who we are is shown each time we acknowledge the existence of a day that we state, "Let's pause for a moment and acknowledge that cultural contribution." Even as borough president, this was part of my vision to see a Diwali holiday.

And it should not go unnoticed, that during the time that we acknowledge the Diwali holiday during my administration, we also acknowledged Juneteenth. We made this our priority and we did it, and this is called, promises made, promises kept. It was a rollercoaster ride, but we held on, we went through the ups and the downs, the twists, the turns, the curves, the low points and the high points. But at the end of the ride, when we pulled into the stop, we're all saying to each other right now, "What a ride, what a ride." And this is how we accomplish these tasks. We are clear, and I am proud to be a New Yorker because we celebrate all different cultures. That's the kind of city we are. That's the kind of city we want to be. As mayor, I will continue to fight for all New Yorkers to honor our diverse communities because you are what makes New York City the greatest place on earth, because of the people and who we are. Thank you. Great job, Assemblywoman, well done, well done.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Now I am proud to introduce a true visionary for our children and our education system. A rock solid partner for the Diwali school holiday whose support for us never wavered, New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks.

New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks: Thank you, assemblymember. What a marvelous, marvelous day. First of all, assemblymember, I want to thank you, personally. Your persistence, your focus, your dedication is unmatched, and you stayed in touch with us on a regular basis. And I just want to say thank you because you, together with this entire community, made today happen and... Absolutely. I take no credit here. The mayor made it very clear on day one, we're going to make Diwali a holiday and we're going to do everything that we need to do and all efforts that needed to be made at this Department of Education, we were going to ensure that we were going to do that and be a solid partner to make this happen.

But let me tell you why this is such a great day, and I want to echo what the mayor said, for school children all across this city, it's less about the fact that schools will be closed in recognition of Diwali, it's more about the fact that minds will be opened because of what we are going to teach them about Diwali and about the history. That's why I’m excited today. I'm excited not just for this community, which is so proud to stand here today in solidarity, I'm happy for all the children and the families and the communities around New York City who are going to learn more about the depth and the heritage and the history of this community.

The mayor talks all the time about the fact that, how often we mistreat each other because we don't understand each other and we see other communities sometimes as the other. Well, if you don't want people to be seen as the other, you have to teach the children. And that's what the Diwali holiday represents for me. And so I'm just really thrilled because there are other things that we're doing besides closing the schools, our educators are provided with robust materials, sample lesson plans, and suggested activities to teach and celebrate Diwali in their classrooms. That's what we're talking about.

And don't forget that this past fall we introduced the Hidden Voices, Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the United States as part of our passport to the social studies curriculum. The Hidden Voices is the third phase of the project, aiming to educate and pay tribute to individuals and cultures who have influenced our history and identity, but are often overlooked in traditional records. It empowers students to analyze the past, find their own voice, and establish connections between historical events and the present.

Listen, young people all across New York City from this day forward are going to learn about the brilliance, the rich culture of the Hindu, the Sikh, the Jain, the Buddhist. They're going to learn about it, and that will be the great contribution that has been made to our city on this day. I'm very proud to stand with your community and I'm very proud, truly, to be the chancellor under this mayor, this visionary as we continue to get stuff done. Thank you so much everybody.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Thank you so much. I'm proud now to introduce the Senate sponsor of the Diwali bill, who drove the bill to the State Senate. He is a longtime friend of the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities. He's always on the ground working for our community. He's also one of the most well-liked legislators in Albany. None other than my good friend, Senator Joe Addabbo.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo: Thank you. Good morning.

Audience: Good morning.

State Senator Addabbo: It is an honor to be here. Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for the kind words and of course your support, and once again, leading the way. So thank you very much. To my good friend Jenifer, Assemblymember Rajkumar, thank you. I truly appreciate our friendship and certainly what you've done here. Again, as another leader in the community, thank you so much. Good morning again, everyone. Again, it is an honor to be here. I want to just thank a number of people here. My leader who believed in this bill as well. So at 3:00 AM on June 10th, we're doing this bill, the last day of session. But my leader, my colleagues here, Senator Leroy Comrie, my colleague, Iwen Chu, I believe is here. But again, this is a bill that passed unanimously, and rightfully so. Proving once again that Diwali has no boundaries. Diwali has no boundaries. It is to be celebrated by all. And I also want to thank my South Asian community, my South Asian friends. Thank you. Because for a person who's truly not South Asian, welcome me into the community, educating me about Diwali, why this is so important is because you spoke out, that's the perfect snapshot of how government should work, on a daily basis. People speak out, elected officials listen, we act, that's how it should work. So thank you.

And who couldn't embrace the message of Diwali? Light over darkness, good over evil, to face one's challenges. That is the message of Diwali, and that's the message that we should have each and every day, every one of us. And so the message of Diwali rings true not just on one day or five days of the calendar year, but each and every day we should have that message about facing our challenges. Good over evil. And Mr. Mayor, again, thank you because once again, you're paving the road for this great city, the city of inclusion. We don't exclude anyone, we take everyone on board. We are the city of inclusion, we are the greatest city in the world. Thank you so much everyone, God bless you all. Thank you.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Next up is the reason we did this, she's one of the brightest young stars of the Indian American community, please welcome Dibya Talukder.

Dibya Talukder: Hello everyone. My name is Dibya Talukder, I was proud to be born and raised in Bellerose Queens. My parents always said, study hard, be your best, but most of all, it's your values, that's what's in your heart that matters. I'm proud to say now that I'm a sophomore at Cornell University. I'm here to say thank you to Mayor Eric Adams for lifting up all the Hindu children in New York City. And I'm here to say thank you to our leader in inspiration Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar. When I went to school, I could not take off on the holy occasion of Diwali. If I did take off, I would miss class and I would fall behind in my school work. This was a problem because I always strive to get good grades. I never complained because as Hindu Americans, we don't complain, we just work.

But from today onwards, Diwali is now a day off. All the Hindu children now get to feel like they belong. Most of all, I'm happy that my culture, the culture of my family and my ancestors is going to be honored by the city. This is the culture who made me who I am. Just like our culture made Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar. When I look at her, I'm reminded of the Hindu goddess. She fought for this Diwali bill with the strength and ferocity of Durga, the goddess of power. She has the faith and devotion and commitment of Sitha. She has brought a gift to our community like Lakshmi, the goddess of Wealth. Assemblywoman Rajkumar is our Devi, our goddess.

And Mayor Eric Adams is our hero, the Ram of our community. Mayor Adams was put here in New York City to lead just like Ram was put on earth to save the world. Mayor Adams has uplifted all the South Asian children who celebrate Diwali. Ram overcame the obstacles and the... Yeah, Ram overcame the obstacles and the demon King Ravana to achieve a victory. In fact, Diwali is a celebration of Ram's victory. Mayor Adams is our Ram. The mayor overcame all obstacles for our community to make Diwali a school holiday. He can lift the bow like Ram, he can persevere through all distractions and difficulties just like Ram until he achieves victory.

In the Ramayana, the people of [inaudible] joyously celebrated Ram's victory. Today the people of New York City joyously celebrate victory with our great leader, Mayor Eric Adams. Mayor Adams and Assemblywoman Rajkumar, you will go down in history and in the books and now I will go down in history too because I'm here with you today. Thank you for what you have done for all the future generations of South Asians and the Indo-Caribbean children who always feel like they belong because of what you have done, thank you.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Congresswoman Grace Meng is here today, there she is. She is a national leader for the Asian-American community. She was the first Asian-American ever elected to Congress in New York. She is, as we all know, a pioneer and a pack breaker, beloved by all. Thank you so much Congresswoman Meng for gracing us with your presence on this special day.

Congresswoman Grace Meng: Good morning everyone. I'm Congresswoman Grace Meng and I just want to give a special shout out and show of gratitude to my good friend Assemblywoman Rajkumar, for all your tireless work to help make Diwali a school holiday in New York City. And thank you Mr. Mayor also for your tremendous leadership on this effort. And of course, I want to give a shout-out to our wonderful schools chancellor David Banks and our senate sponsor, my colleague in government, Senator Joe Addabbo. 

Nearly a decade ago, many of us worked with then Mayor Bill de Blasio to create a New York City school holiday for Lunar New Year. And when it was finally established, I was ecstatic. And then I also hailed the decision to close our public schools for Eid. But many of us, and I know Delip called me, said, "What about Diwali?" I argued and we have all continued to argue under Jenifer's leadership that kids who celebrate the Festival of Lights also deserve to be recognized with the holiday of their own so they too could celebrate with loved ones and not have to miss a day of school.

So we have been pushing for this school holiday to happen, and I cannot be happier that now we are on the cusp of our efforts becoming a reality. The time has come for our school system to acknowledge and appreciate this important observance, just as it rightly does for holidays of other cultures and ethnicities. 

Adding Diwali to the school calendar will further reflect the rich and vibrant diversity that exists in our own city and how we should all embrace it and hopefully even pave the ways for other cities across the country as well. Last month, Assemblywoman Rajkumar and many of us joined on a press conference as I introduced a bill in Congress to make Diwali a federal holiday. So Joe said that Diwali has no boundaries, that's our next step, right Assemblywoman? Under that bill, Diwali would become the 12th federally recognized holiday in the United States.

Establishing a federal holiday for Diwali and the day off it would provide, as the chancellor mentioned, it's not just about a day off for kids, it's not just about families who celebrate the holiday to celebrate, but it's a chance for all students and New Yorkers all across the city of all backgrounds, to better understand the culture and the diversity and the inclusivity of this city and including holidays like Diwali. 

So in closing, I want to again thank Assemblywoman Rajkumar, thank you for leading the fight. Thank you for being constantly persistent and never giving up. Chancellor Banks, Mayor Adams and Senator Addabbo for all their efforts and hard work. I also want to acknowledge council members Linda Lee and Shekar Krishnan for their strong support through the city council as well. And I eagerly await for the next Diwali holiday when all of our students will be able to celebrate. Thank you Jenifer.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Thank you.

Congresswoman Meng: Thank you so much.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: We have today with us somebody who was relentless in helping us achieve this. She's the boss of Brooklyn, I call her boss, I call her boss sister. None other than our good friend, our fighter, Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn. 

Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn: Good morning. Morning. Wow. I am so excited for this day. Thank you everyone. Thank you for being here. Let's give it up to Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar and Senator Addabbo for making this possible. Making Diwali a school holiday. I want to tell you it was a long fought job, okay? It was a journey that we fought for. And I have to tell you, my Assembly Member, colleague Jenifer Rajkumar was relentless, okay? She was not going to end the session without making sure Diwali was a school holiday. 

And I will tell you ladies and gentlemen, there was some pushback, there was some pushback, some unnecessary pushback. And as you heard from our chancellor, David Banks, from our mayor, Eric Adams, who again, I want to applaud for making this a priority because they called our office every single day. And I want to give a shout-out to Mark Treyger as well because he was giving me some ideas of how we can do this.

We were trying to make this happen. They were saying that, "Oh, there's not enough days in the calendar. Oh, we can't eliminate this, we can't eliminate that." But we found a way thanks to Speaker Carl Heastie and thanks to majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, because they and all of us in Albany, as you heard it was voted on unanimously, felt that this was a priority and important. I want to say that to their point as well, 200,000 New Yorkers celebrate the sacred holiday and they deserve the same accommodation afforded to those who observe other significant holidays. And by designating Diwali as a school holiday, we can also give much deserved recognition to New York's growing South Asian community as well as the Indo-Caribbean and Hindu community. I want to say that I'm a new mom and I am a new mom who was engaged on Diwali Day, yes. My friend, Nayan Peri can attest to that.

And I'm engaged to my now husband who's half Haitian and half Indo-Guyanese. And so when you look at my son, you'll see that he has a little bit of Indian in him. And this is a time that I will be able to educate my son so that he can also join hands in celebrating Diwali School holiday. And I'm just really excited about that. We are making progress, we also just passed the lunar year as a school holiday and we can't wait till we celebrate that as well, because we understand that New York City is a diverse city and it requires that we all learn about each other, we all celebrate each other. So again, I want to congratulate my Assemblywoman, Jenifer Rajkumar, who, I mean, I don't know, I haven't seen anyone who fights like her before and she wears red every day to say that she's vigilant, she's out there and she's not going to stop. And I love fighters like her. And I will continue standing by you, my sister, and we're going to celebrate Diwali, Diwali every day throughout the year. And I thank you. God bless you everyone.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Thank you so much my sister, you were really there for us. Next up is a Diwali champion Assemblyman Ed Braunstein. He actually asked the mayor and chancellor about the Diwali School holiday at his budget hearings. And he was so committed to this cause we were so grateful for his help, for his intellectual rigor. And he is so deeply connected with the South Asian communities that he himself represents. Thank you so much, Assemblyman Braunstein.

Assembly Member Ed Braunstein: Thank you. I will try to be brief because a lot has been said very eloquently so far. First, I do want to thank and congratulate my colleague Assemblywoman Rajkumar. I saw firsthand the fight that she put in to make this day a reality. And sometimes it wasn't a sure thing and you walk through the assembly lobby and you see Jenifer, and sometimes she was happy, sometimes she was mad, but she was always there lobbying the speaker, lobbying of her colleagues working on the language, talking to Senator at Addabbo, and it really was an uphill climb. And I really appreciate the hard work that you put into getting this done. And I also want to thank the mayor. This is impossible without getting a green light from the mayor, he made a pledge that he was going to make this happen and he made it happen.

And then finally, I want to thank all the community advocates. I don't know how many of you were at the rally that they had on the million dollar staircase, but that was one of the loudest rallies... I've been in Albany... I'm in my 13th year. And when you're sitting, when you could hear people chanting when you were on the floor of the assembly. So it's a lot to drive two and a half hours up to Albany, but it made a difference. And obviously your voice was heard. Moving forward, families in New York City are not going to have to make the decision of whether or not their child is going to miss a day of school or if they're going to be able to celebrate the holiday with their family. And that's a huge, huge step moving forward.

But I think the words of Chancellor Banks really encapsulated how I feel. It's not just about the South Asian and the Indo-Caribbean community, it's an opportunity for all New Yorkers to take a moment to reflect upon the contributions of our South Asian and Indo-Caribbean neighbors. I have three young children in New York City public schools, and I look forward to the time where they come home from school, they tell me they're learning about Diwali in school, they know it's a day off from school. And in my own house we can talk about the tremendous contributions of the South Asian community to our city, state, and nation. So once again, Assemblywoman, thank you so much for bringing us to this moment and I appreciate all your hard work, thank you.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Thank you, well said. Those were indeed some good memories. And the Diwali holiday chant is still echoing in the hallways of the Capitol. I would like to next bring up the city council's education chair, who has been with us every step of the way in the fight for the Diwali holiday. And that is Chairwoman Rita Joseph.

Council Member Rita Joseph: Thank you and good morning everyone. Thank you for all my colleagues and government, my council members. I thank Linda Lee here, she was very instrumental, I don't know where she went. But assembly member, thank you. Good morning everyone. This historic decision not only signified a tremendous step forward in embracing cultural traditions, but it also sends a powerful message of acceptance and respect for the various faiths and customs that make our city so vibrant.

Diwali holds deep cultural and religious significance for millions around the world so we thank you and we look forward to celebrating with you. By declaring Diwali a public school holiday, we demonstrate our commitment to fostering an inclusive and equitable learning environment for all students regardless of their religious background.

I am proud of the progress we made and I commend the New York City Public Schools and New York state legislators commitment to creating an environment that embraces the cultural mosaic of our city. Together let us seize this opportunity to educate, inspire and empower our students while fostering a deep appreciation for tradition and customs that shape our collective identity. Thank you and may the Festival of Lights bring happiness, prosperity, and harmony to all. Thank you.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: My Asian sister, Grace Lee, you can't go anywhere. So my Asian sister is Grace Lee. She's the chairwoman of the Assemblies Asian Task Force, and she really took Albany by storm and she said all session long, we are one pan-Asian community and our Diwali fight was her fight. So thank you my sister. Please grace us with a few words.

Assembly Member Grace Lee: Thank you so much. Good morning. I am so pleased to be here as the assembly member for Lower Manhattan and also the co-chair of the Asian Pacific American Task Force. This year I helped to lead the largest Asian caucus in the history of the state legislature.

And with our caucus, I am so proud to have helped Assembly Member Rajkumar, push forward this bill to make Diwali a school holiday. So what this bill passage shows is what we can do when we have a seat at the table. We can do great things for our community. We are seen, we are heard, and we are recognized and I am so thrilled to know that hundreds of thousands of young children do not have to make a choice between their culture and their classes this coming school year.

And I am so proud to also think about so many of the hundreds of thousands of children who are now going to have time to reflect on the holiday and learn about their classmates' culture. So I just want to say a special thank you again to our mayor, to our Chancellor Banks, to the great sponsors, state Senator, Joe Addabbo, and Assembly Member Rajkumar, and to Carl Heastie, our speaker, and Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart Cousins. Thank you.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Thank you, well said. So I often say that Dave Weprin was the first South Asian ever elected to the state assembly, and I was the second. Please join me in welcoming a good friend to our South Asian community for a very long time. My good friend, Assemblyman David Weprin.

Assembly Member David Weprin: Thank you, assembly member, Jenifer Rajkumar, as we all pointed out for her tenaciousness, her not giving up her fighting. This fight goes back well over 20 years. When I was in the City Council from 2002 through 2009, we brought up having a Diwali holiday. I did sponsor another milestone at the time, suspending alternate side parking on Diwali back in 2002.

So I started it, but Jenifer finished it because this is a much bigger accomplishment. I also worked with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Ranju Batra of getting a Diwali stamp in Washington and I know our Congresswoman Grace Meng was very involved in that as well. And so we have a stamp, we have suspension of alternate side parking, but now we have a city holiday so that is a tremendous accomplishment.

As was pointed out, I don't want to be repetitive, but this is such a wonderful holiday, not just for the South Asian community, for the Sikh community and that very large Sikh population, the Hindu community or the Jain community, but for everyone. The theme of good over evil, lightness over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, those themes transcend all religions and they're so important and this is so important that we finally now have a New York City holiday and I too want to thank the mayor and Chancellor Banks for their cooperation and their leadership in this along with my good colleague and neighboring assembly member, Jenifer Rajkumar, thank you.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Thank you so much. One of the brightest new stars of the state assembly is here today. He is Manhattan Assemblyman, Alex Bores.

Assembly Member Alex Bores: Thank you. I'm assembly member Alex Bores from the 73rd District. I am so happy to be here celebrating the creation of this school holiday. I want to be, I don't know, the 90th person to thank Senator Joe Addabbo, the mayor, and of course assembly member, Jenifer Rajkumar, for their fight in making this happen. But I don't think I'm going to be the last, I think there's going to be about nine million New Yorkers thanking you for this work again and again and again. So that not only do those that celebrate Diwali, get to have the day off, get to be with their families, get to celebrate their rich culture, but that students throughout the five boroughs get to learn about this holiday and learn about these cultures that makes the entire city richer.

And so I'm so happy to be here and thank you Assembly Member Rajkumar and everyone who fought for this, for making the city that much richer. Thank you.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Assemblyman Lester Chang is here and he has always stood up for our Asian communities and with such passion has also supported our South Asian community. Please welcome my good friend Assemblyman Lester Chang.

Assembly Member Lester Chang: Thank you everyone. Again, we have to thank the mayor, Chancellor Banks, Senator Addabbo, and all the key players to make this bill happening. You have to remember, India represent 20 percent of the world population. That's four times what the population in the United States, we have to remember that. So it is, we have to represent that.

And we have to thank Jenifer. Not only that she pushes this bill into this finish line, but she pulled it at the same time and I have to be forever thankful about that because I once lived in it and worked in India and I can see the difference of Diwali over there. It's a huge celebration and reflect very similar to the lunar calendar that we will be reflecting on that.

But anyway, New York will have one cultural event to celebrate every year, and we have to be thankful for her and her effort on that. Thank you very much. Thank you, Jenifer.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: We have another history maker with us. He's the first Filipino ever elected to any government office in our state. He is everywhere at once. Everyone loves him and he's deeply connected to our Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist communities. Please welcome my friend, Assemblyman Steve Raga.

Assembly Member Steven Raga: Thank you, Jenifer. Thank you to our bill sponsors. Obviously the mayor, the chancellor, all the advocates that came up to Albany and had that... I still have Diwali holiday as my ringtone. But this is such a great day making sure our communities are what was said earlier, seen, that we're heard, and that moving forward now we're going to be celebrated across the city. So it's a great day for that.

I want to say thank you to our champion, our sponsor, and apparently now our deity, assembly member Jenifer Rajkumar, for making sure every day this was the fight on the assembly floor that everybody knew that had to be taken on before the end of session. Every day we'd see Jenifer and it's like, "Hey, you're still on the bill?" "Yeah, of course. What do you mean?" Every time you see, "We're working, we're working, we're working." She's getting more co-sponsors, making sure the bill moves forward.

This is the type of leadership that we saw first on front row this session and thank you so much, Jenifer, making sure we brought to the finish line. Thanks so much to the advocates again for the city, it's a great day. Thank you for everyone to be here. Happy to join in celebration and thanks again, it's a great day. Thank you, Assembly Member Rajkumar.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: Councilwoman Lynn Schulman is one of the most knowledgeable elected officials. She is also someone who is in the Hindu temples. She is in the Sikh temple, and I really respect the energy that she brings to this job. Please welcome one of the hardest working City Council members, my good friend Lynn Schulman.

Council Member Lynn Schulman: Thank you very much. Before I speak, let's give a round of applause to all the advocates here because it's their energy that drove this.

Several years ago before I became an elected official, I met Vijay Ramjattan at a rally and he spoke to me and he talked to me about Diwali being a holiday. So I said, "That's something that's really important." And so from that moment on, I really fought to make Diwali a school holiday and I was a co-sponsor of the resolutions and everything else that went on in the city council to make Diwali a holiday. I want to thank him for his advocacy. I want to thank Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, who is someone I've always looked up to. She is a really amazing and she's a rising star, folks. Keep an eye on her.

And Romeo Hitlall and David Weprin and Joe Addabbo, everybody that put their energy into this. The mayor, the chancellor. This doesn't happen by itself. It takes a village and it takes the advocates who are behind me, the people that are on the ground in the community. And I have to tell you that my new district, my new city council district includes most of Richmond Hill now, and I have been to almost every gurdwara, to the mosques, to every place, to the Hindu temples and it is so heartwarming. And so Diwali is going to be not only a holiday, but an educational experience for our kids and that is so important. Thank you.

Assembly Member Rajkumar: What you have seen today is a diverse coalition of lawmakers and leaders who have all joined together to support the Diwali holiday and the emerging South Asian community. I would like to thank everyone standing here today. You are my family. You are my family, and this is just the beginning for our community and we're going to continue celebrating every day from now until Diwali. These are going to be the biggest Diwali celebrations New York City has ever seen. So everyone get ready, thank you for coming and [speaks in Sanskrit].


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