Last February 19, I followed my typical Andover schedule. I woke up at 8:30 a.m., hastily threw on some clothes, rushed to and from classes, went to sports and raced to finish homework by lights out. Suddenly, just as I closed my math textbook, completely exhausted and ready to sleep, my phone flashed. Dozens of emails popped up on my screen, all from my family members back in China. I had been so preoccupied with life at Andover that I had almost forgotten about the Lunar New Year, the most important day of the year in Chinese culture.
Many Chinese individuals, myself included, regard the Lunar New Year as a special occasion in which we celebrate traditional Chinese culture by hosting family reunions, embellishing our rooms with various traditional New Year decorations and lighting fireworks. Since coming to Andover, however, I have been unable to celebrate this facet of my culture and have instead assimilated into Andover’s culture.
I have accepted the fact that I cannot completely retain my Chinese identity while attending an American boarding school. I was surprised, however, that the Eight Schools Association decided to allow students to take the day off from classes in the middle of the week for students observing Yom Kippur, the most significant Jewish holiday of the year. Not only that, but students also received multiple emails that insisted that non-observers show respect for those involved in Yom Kippur services.
Even though the Lunar New Year holiday is as important to me and most other Chinese students as Yom Kippur is to Jewish students on campus, Andover is now allowing the entire community to take a day off on Yom Kippur. While I recognize that this decision was not made solely by Andover, it still seems unfair that Chinese students and several other groups on campus cannot celebrate the significant holidays in their cultures because they have classes or extracurricular activities on the same day.
“Youth from Every Quarter” should not just be a slogan. As a community, we should strive to further advocate and appreciate not only the Jewish holidays but also the holidays of the various identity groups on campus. If students can get a day off for an extremely important religious festival, then others deserve the same for an equally important cultural festival. Of course, I am not insisting that we take a day off for every cultural festival that exists; we should at the very least try to publicize cultural holidays like the Lunar New Year more broadly on campus by handing out brochures or sending more emails to students.
By asserting that students should be excused from some of their commitments to celebrate their cultures, I am not claiming that we should not allocate time for Jewish students to observe Yom Kippur, nor do I believe that the school does not already strive to celebrate Asian cultures. I recognize that the Chinese Department makes an effort to commemorate the Lunar New Year each year by teaching students how to make dumplings and organizing theatrical performances. Yet most students cannot afford to partake in these special activities because of academic commitments and feel a loss of heritage due to schedules that do not fully accommodate holidays of cultural or religious minorities.
Many minority groups want their respective cultures to be more prevalently recognized and celebrated by students on campus. More explicitly, celebrating a cultural holiday such as the Lunar New Year will be one more step towards making our voices heard.