The celebration of Hindu holidays is a strength of Lancaster County culture, according to a public proclamation signed by all three Lancaster County commissioners earlier this month.
On May 3, the Lancaster County commissioners proclaimed May 2023 to be “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.” The proclamation was read aloud by Commissioner John Trescot at the commissioners meeting and comments were made by all three commissioners and the public.
The proclamation recognized the benefits of the South Asian Association of Lancaster (SAAL) continuing “to share their culture through Holi Festivals and Diwali celebrations.”
Holi and Diwali are prominent celebrations within the religion of Hinduism.
Commissioner Josh Parsons said he has not attended the Diwali celebration recently, but when he did it was “really awesome.”
Parsons said the purpose of the proclamation is “to honor and discuss and raise awareness for different parts of the community,” and “that we’re strong as a nation when we honor the different parts of our community but unite as Lancaster County citizens and American citizens.”
Commissioner Ray D’Agostino explained that diverse cultures make the nation stronger. “Many other countries can’t boast what we do, which is having diverse people come together for the American experience and the American dream,” he said.
Comments from the public included success stories of Asian immigrants moving to the United States and anecdotes of Asian children being called names by classmates.
Madhuri Reddy, president of SAAL, thanked the commissioners for “the continued support of Asian-American communities.”
Reddy highlighted the work of SAAL, including food donations, back-to-school supply drives, and COVID-19 vaccine clinics.
Reddy also requested lighting in downtown Lancaster for the celebration of Diwali. “Recently the Pennsylvania Senate approved Diwali, the festival of lights, as a holiday, which is much appreciated by Hindus residing in Lancaster and Pennsylvania,” she said.
Meghna Patel, a first-generation migrant, and representative from Gov. Shapiro’s office, said the governor’s commission encourages members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community “to celebrate their diversity, to lift up their voices, and to share their heritage proudly.”
Another speaker expressed disappointment that people still inquire about her ethnic heritage by asking her where she is “really from.”
The proclamation included a reference to Hong Neok Woo, a Chinese-born immigrant who came to Lancaster County in the 19th century and joined the Union Army. The proclamation said that Woo attended St. James Episcopal Church but contained no mention of his work as a Christian missionary.
Woo was educated and baptized as a Christian in China prior to migrating to Lancaster County. Woo eventually returned to China and dedicated his life to spreading Christianity among the Chinese people, seeking to transform the culture with Christianity and often confronting priests of other religions. A missionary report claims that Woo preached “to the heathen” three afternoons each week.
“When the Judgment Day comes the Kong Wan people cannot say that they did not hear the Blessed Name, and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, because it has been freely preached to them,” an entry from Woo’s report said.