Indigenous Peoples Day? Italians say stick with Columbus

FILE- In this Oct. 14, 1996, file photo, a model of the “Santa Maria,” one of Christopher Columbus’ three ships, is pulled up New York’s Fifth Avenue in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the 56th Columbus Day Parade. A movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day has new momentum but the gesture to recognize victims of European colonialism has also prompted howls of outrage from some Italian Americans, who say eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Is it time to say “arrivederci” to Christopher Columbus?

A movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day has gained momentum in some parts of the U.S., with Los Angeles in August becoming the biggest city yet to decide to stop honoring the Italian explorer and instead recognize victims of colonialism.

Austin, Texas, followed suit Thursday. It joined cities, including San Francisco, Seattle and Denver, that had previously booted Columbus in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.

But the gesture to recognize indigenous people rather than the man who opened the Americas to European domination has also prompted howls of outrage from some Italian-Americans, who say eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too.

FILE – In this Oct. 12, 2015, file photo, participants in the Columbus Day Parade ride a float with a large bust of Christopher Columbus in New York. A movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day has new momentum but the gesture to recognize victims of European colonialism has also prompted howls of outrage from some Italian Americans, who say eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

“We had a very difficult time in this country for well over a hundred years,” said Basil Russo, president of the Order Italian Sons and Daughters of America. “Columbus Day is a day that we’ve chosen to celebrate who we are. And we’re entitled to do that just as they are entitled to celebrate who they are.”

It’s not about taking anything away from Italian-Americans, said Cliff Matias, cultural director of the Redhawk Native American Arts Council, which is hosting a “Re-Thinking Columbus Day” event Sunday and Monday in New York City.

“The conversation is Columbus,” he said. “If they’re going to celebrate Columbus, we need to celebrate the fact that we survived Columbus.”

The debate over Columbus’ historical legacy is an old one, but it became emotionally charged after a similar debate in the South over monuments to Confederate generals flared into deadly violence in August at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In Akron, Ohio, a September vote over whether to dump Columbus opened a racial rift on the city council that was so heated, conflict mediators were brought in to sooth tensions.

In New York City, where 35,000 people are expected to march in Monday’s Columbus Day parade, vandals last month doused the hands of a Christopher Columbus statue in blood-red paint and scrawled the words “hate will not be tolerated.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed a committee to evaluate whether monuments to certain historical figures should be removed, prompting a backlash from fellow Italian-Americans who vowed to defend the Columbus statue that has stood over Manhattan’s Columbus Circle for more than a century.

Many Italians who migrated to the U.S. initially had a rough time. In 1891, 11 Italians were lynched in New Orleans by a mob that held them responsible for the death of a local police official.

At the end of the 1800s, Italians began to link themselves more with Columbus. Italian-American businessman and newspaper owner Generoso Pope was among those who worked to get Columbus Day recognized as a federal holiday in 1937.

“It was one of the things that would allow them to become Americans symbolically,” said Fred Gardaphe, a professor of Italian-American studies at Queens College.

Indigenous Peoples Day began to gel as an idea in advance of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas.

South Dakota began celebrating Native American Day on the second Monday of October in 1990. Berkeley, California, got rid of Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992.

Many places that have adopted Indigenous People’s Day since then, including Alaska, have sizable Native American populations.

A few cities have compromised. Salt Lake City officials declared Tuesday that they would keep Columbus Day but celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on the same day.

In Akron, a city with few Native Americans and a large Italian-American community, an attempt to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day on Sept. 11 split the all-Democrat city council along racial lines. Five black members voted to rename the holiday and eight white members voted against it, following a debate that devolved into shouting.

“The first voyage of Columbus to the Americas initiated the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It would lead to the kidnapping, deaths, and slavery of tens of millions of African people,” said Councilman Russel Neal, who is black.

But Councilman Jeff Fusco, who is Italian-American, said, “It’s a celebration of Italian heritage. It’s very similar to other days throughout the year that we celebrate for many other cultures.”

States and municipalities aren’t legally bound to recognize federal holidays, though most do. Columbus Day is already one of the most inconsistently celebrated. Places that choose to replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day may give their own workers or schoolchildren a day off, teach in schools about Native Americans instead of Columbus, issue proclamations or mark it in other ways.

There is no question that Columbus’ arrival in the New World under the sponsorship of Spain was bad for the indigenous people of Hispaniola, the island he colonized that is now split between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Many of the native people of the island were forced into servitude. Multitudes died of disease. Spain repopulated the workforce with African slaves.

Columbus is celebrated in Latin America, too. A massive monument to the explorer, the Columbus Lighthouse, opened in 1992 in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico commemorates Discovery Day on Nov. 19, marking the day Columbus landed there.

Ralph Arellanes, chairman of the activist group Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, said that as a Hispanic, he supports Columbus Day.

“It was the marriage of two peoples creating a new people, in a new land,” he said.

Though Columbus “wasn’t a saint,” he said, he believes Anglo-Americans like President Andrew Jackson should be held more responsible than the Spanish for the hardships Native Americans faced.

Arellanes also said he doesn’t understand why Italians claim Columbus for themselves when Columbus was sailing for Spain.

FILE- In this Oct. 10, 2016, file photo, boys wave Italian flags while riding a float in the Columbus Day Parade in New York. A movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day has new momentum but the gesture to recognize victims of European colonialism has also prompted howls of outrage from some Italian Americans, who say eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

WFLA.com provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s