Watertown resident, lead organizer of IndigenousPeoplesDayMA.org
From Los Angeles to Maine, dozens of cities and towns and several states have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Efforts to change the name of the holiday are swelling because the continued celebration of Columbus can no longer be justified. Local communities should join the movement as Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville have done.
Columbus never set foot on our shores. He and his crew were responsible for enslaving, murdering, and raping Indigenous humans whose homelands they invaded and claimed. The actions of Columbus and his men decimated the original peoples of the Caribbean and paved the way for the genocide and enslavement of millions more Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas in the coming centuries.
Glorifying Columbus sends a cruel message to Indigenous children. It also sends the wrong message to non-Native kids, encouraging them to believe Indigenous peoples were somehow waiting to be discovered and misrepresenting Columbus’s supposed heroism.
A recent poll showed that two-thirds of non-Natives did not personally know an Indigenous person, and 40 percent thought we were extinct, according to Women’s Media Center. Indigenous people rarely appear in the media except as stereotypes or in discussions about race. Few non-Natives in Massachusetts have considered the history of the area prior to European colonization and often do not even know the name of the tribal nation on whose traditional lands they live. Indigenous existence is nearly erased.
This erasure means that Indigenous people live and work right next to you, yet we are usually ignored or dismissed. You may not realize that the majority of us don’t live on reservations, or that there are hundreds of distinct tribes, or that many people labeled “Hispanic” are also Indigenous.
Indigenous Peoples Day is anti-Columbus, not anti-Italian. Italian-American culture is celebrated in many other ways including Italian-American heritage month in October. Many non-Native people including Italian-Americans have learned the facts and now support abolishing Columbus Day instead of clinging to this false hero.
Indigenous Peoples Day, first proposed in 1977, will help us begin addressing some persistent misconceptions. By replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day — starting at the local level — we seek to open much-needed conversations about the history, survival, resilience, and contributions of Indigenous peoples.
Mayor of Everett
When I was in grade school, I learned that Christopher Columbus was an Italian sailor who discovered America. For Italians, this has always a matter of pride. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937 chose the name of a well-respected Italian American in our history, and established Columbus Day as a national holiday through an act of Congress.
A Senate report at the time called the designation an “annual reaffirmation by the American people of their faith in the future, a declaration of willingness to face with confidence the imponderables of unknown tomorrows.” And across America, Columbus Day is when those of us who are of Italian ancestry celebrate our heritage.
Now there is a move to rename the holiday because Columbus and his compatriots were known to enslave and slaughter Native Americans. While it should go without saying that these practices were inherently wrong and terrible, they were part of a larger global history of war and conquest that spanned centuries.
Yes, Columbus traded slaves. But he was but one of any number of long revered historical figures whose conduct would never be acceptable today. And for all his flaws, Columbus remains an enduring symbol of what the holiday celebrates: Italian-American heritage and the spirit of discovery that has always energized our nation.
Recall that Columbus Day parades began in the 1800s as a way for Italian-Americans to unite around their shared heritage at a time when they faced discrimination. Today’s parades continue that spirit.
Renaming the holiday would be a slap in the face to so many great Italians who have helped build and protect this country. And while I understand and support the desire to recognize indigenous peoples, it should be done on a different date.
When I was young, a first-generation Italian-American, my parents spoke no English and received no governmental assistance. However, this country enabled them to work and raise a family. They taught my brother and me to speak only English, love our country, and help and respect all people.
Let’s stop going back over 500 years and judging someone by today’s standards. I hope we can all put the past behind and move forward.
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