Posted on June 14, 2011

As Asian Indian Community Grows, Pressure Builds for New School Holidays

Lisa Fernandez, Mercury News, June 14, 2011

For many in the Bay Area’s rapidly growing Asian Indian population, Diwali is as important as Christmas is to Christians.

Now there is a budding movement to have the Hindu holy day declared a school holiday in Fremont, Sunnyvale and San Jose, cities where Asian Indians comprise a significant portion of the overall enrollment.

While the push for a school holiday is in its infancy, Silicon Valley’s Indian community is growing both in numbers and influence. For their part, local school officials say it’s important to recognize that diversity–but adding a new holiday to the school calendar can be a major headache.


The 2010 Census shows the Indian population in the Bay Area has grown dramatically over the past decade, from about 150,000 in 2000 to about 250,000 last year, with about 118,000 in Santa Clara County alone. Indians now comprise 18 percent of the population in Fremont and 15 percent in Sunnyvale.


Despite the increase, many, even in the Indian community, wonder about the fairness of shutting down school for Diwali, a festival of lights that falls in either October or November depending on the year. Does that mean schools should also close to celebrate the end of Ramadan for the Muslims, Vaisakhi for the Sikhs, Tet for the Vietnamese, and Rosh Hashanah for the Jews?

Go ahead, say the Diwali supporters, the more holidays celebrated, the better.


‘Celebrating diversity’

Passaic’s Assistant Superintendent Lawrence Everett said the school board unanimously–and without controversy–voted it a district holiday six years ago, four years after Three Kings Day also was approved as a no-school day. Schools in Passaic are also closed for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, while schools in South Brunswick close for Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Muslim fasting holiday, Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice.

Everett said the Diwali closure was in “response to our Indian population,” which totals a little more than 2 percent of its 13,000-student body. “It’s aligned to our district vision of celebrating diversity, not merely tolerating it,” he said.