Pleasing the Koreans – and Others – in Palisades Park

Jong Chul Lee at his swearing in as deputy mayor of Palisades Park (Photo via Korea Times)

Jongchul Lee at his swearing-in as deputy mayor of Palisades Park (Photo via The Korea Times)

Jongchul Lee, who was recently appointed deputy mayor of Palisades Park, New Jersey, publicly announced through the media that he has plans to make the Lunar New Year an official holiday for schools in Palisades Park. Lee’s announcement soon caught the attention of many Koreans.

Even though the majority of Koreans have a positive view of Lee’s new plan, some suggest Lee should move slowly in providing what may seem an exclusive “gift” to the Korean community, so that others don’t get upset.

This plan surfaced soon after Lee’s appointment, which was made by James Rotundo, the current mayor of Palisades Park.

Interviewed by The Korea Times, Lee promised he would push two plans ahead: give Broad Avenue the additional symbolic name of Korea Way, and let students take the day of Lunar New Year as a school holiday.

The Korean community, which accounts for 50 percent of the population in Palisades Park, has welcomed Lee’s ideas. And since 30 to 40 percent of the students in each of the two elementary schools and in the borough’s high school are Korean, this move may even be coming a little late, some say.

Lee’s plan, combined with Korean community support, residents believe, ensure that the Lunar New Year will become an official holiday without any obstacles.

Palisades Park wouldn’t be the first town to designate the Lunar New Year as an official holiday. Since 2005, nearby Tenafly has allowed students to stay home on Lunar New Year days, and New York City recently reached the same decision. These precedents will give Palisades Park a good reason to go forward.

According to education experts, Korean parents, along with Chinese parents and politicians from Queens, pushed New York toward this decision. And when Tenafly, which has celebrated Jewish holidays as school holidays, saw a growing number of Korean students, the district’s education board quickly decided to adopt the Lunar New Year as a holiday after a few meetings.

In Tenafly, the education board let schools teach students about the Lunar New Year and invite Korean traditional dance teams to perform so the students can learn about not only the Lunar New Year but also Asian culture.

“It has more meaning than just taking one day off,” said Hi-dong Park, a director of the Korean Education Center in New York. “By making deep bows, students learn how to respect older people, and by sharing words of blessing, they learn how to treat others in a respectful manner. Celebrating days like this will have a positive influence educationally.”

However, some urge the Korean community to approach this matter with care since the deputy mayor shares the same ethnicity. With the remaining 50 percent of the residents being non-Korean, Koreans who rely on the exercise of Korean political power may face a backlash.

That’s why, some say, Koreans should emphasize that designating the Lunar New Year as a holiday would be helpful not only for Korean students but for all students, of various races and backgrounds, and that there should be a long-term plan to educate residents so that the holiday can be celebrated in concert by all residents.

Lee also somewhat agrees with this. “If I rush many things in a very short time period, residents and other council members may stand against my plans,” he said. “Right now, I am forming a committee to give Broad Avenue a second, symbolic name of Korea Way. So I want to finish this Korea Way plan first and then start working on a plan for designating the Lunar New Year as a holiday.”

Jongchul Lee, the deputy mayor of Palisades Park, wants to make the Lunar New York a holiday for public schools in the New Jersey town in which Koreans account for 50 percent of the population. But some suggest he should hold off, reports The Korea Times.

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  1. Pingback: – ‘Koreanizing’ of Palisades Park Opposed

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