The Lunar New Year Starts and the Day of Remembrance Never Ends

Updated Feb 24, 2015

It may have been coincidence, but when University of California President Janet Napolitano announced she was postponing a tuition increase of up to 5 percent each of the next five years, I’ll take that delay as a good omen for the Lunar New Year.

And I’m sure the other parents of the Asian American kids who make up 30 to 40 percent of many of the UC campuses feel the same.

Feb.19 was the start of what most people call Chinese New Year, but in fact it is a far more diverse proposition. The moon just doesn’t belong to the Chinese. The Lunar New Year is the more inclusive term as Feb. 19 is not just Chinese, but a new year for Japanese (prior to 1873), Korean (Seollal), Mongolian (Tsagaan Sar), Tibetan(Losar), and Vietnamese (Tet).

It’s a signal of prosperity, luck and long life.

So naturally, generations come together in family gatherings over meals of traditional comfort foods. The elders are respected. Red envelopes with lucky money are exchanged. And what else do you do with lucky money but play gambling games to make more money.

Napolitano could do nothing better for the Lunar New Year but tell Asian American families that the bill isn’t coming yet.

It was like giving them all a little more for the red envelopes.

Feb. 19 was also a special day for Japanese Americans, specifically, but really for all Americans. Maybe that’s a good omen, too.

It was the community’s official “Day of Remembrance” when Executive Order 9066 was signed into law and Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.

At the University of San Francisco, I took part in a Day of Remembrance celebration where I spoke with Todd Endo.

Not only did Endo, 74, spend the first three years of his life in a camp, but his memories came mostly from stories of his mother. She noticed that, in rural Arkansas where his family was placed, the Blacks they encountered there were often envious of those in the camp. Despite the spartan accommodations, the camps were still generally more comfortable than the rural poor who lived in freedom.

The memories of the camp helped shape Endo’s life.

He was one of the few Asian Americans to have marched at the March of Washington in 1963 and at Selma in 1965. After graduate school at Harvard, he became instrumental in the desegregation of the DC schools. Later he helped develop programs for immigrant communities in Arlington, Virginia.

It was Endo’s way of staying vigilant in the constant battle for the rights of minorities in America.

If you think it can’t happen again, remember that the Supreme Court ruling that allowed incarceration still stands. The district court ruling was reversed, but the U.S. government didn’t appeal and the SCOTUS decision was never officially reversed.

All it takes is a few coincidences to whip the country into frenzy.

War with ISIS. Rudy Giuliani questioning President Obama’s loyalty. All of Islam seen as terrorists.

That’s why we remember Feb. 19. I hope you didn’t forget. It’s not too late. It lasts a day, but the memories last a lifetime.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race, culture and politics for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog) Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; twitter@emilamok