Tom Keane’s Oct. 15 op-ed column “Columbus Day — a holiday without a hero” asked an interesting question: Why should we celebrate Christopher Columbus? But Keane did not look at the roots of Columbus Day for a possible answer.
Columbus Day was a late-19th-century response by American Catholics to the increasingly public celebration of America’s Anglo-Protestant origins. The Daughters of the American Revolution, Mayflower descendants, and other heritage groups began to organize at that time, in response to what they perceived as a threatening influx of immigrants. This was an answer to the coming of Irish, German, and French-Canadian immigrants, even before the Ellis Island-era immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe.
Ironically, the Columbus Day movement, which predated the arrival of large numbers of Italian immigrants, was led by Irish-Americans eager to claim a Catholic founding father in the face of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic nativism.
All of which goes to support an idea Keane mentions — Columbus Day as a “contemplation of diversity and cultures and how they interact.” The rather twisted origins of Columbus Day underline the fact that being American is not a matter of one’s ethnicity, religion, or race, and it’s about time we all learn that.