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Italians Say Stick With Columbus!

October 12 is the 285th day of the year (286th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 80 days remaining until the end of the year. This date is slightly more likely to fall on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday (58 in 400 years each) than on Saturday or Sunday (57), and slightly less likely to occur on a Tuesday or Thursday (56).

It is also the day in 1492 when the Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer, Christopher Columbus’ expedition makes landfall in the Caribbean, specifically in The Bahamas. The explorer believes he has reached the Indies.

Columbus is the European explorer credited with establishing and documenting routes to the Americas. And on October 12, the anniversary of Columbus’s 1492 landing in the Americas is usually observed in Spain and throughout the Americas, except Canada, one of the few countries in the western hemisphere that does not celebrate any version of Columbus Day, despite that Canada’s largest city, Toronto, is home to the fourth largest Italian population outside of Italy.

In Spain it is called the Fiesta Nacional de España y Día de la Hispanidad, while a number of countries in Latin America celebrate it as Día de la Raza. In Costa Rica, the day is now called “Encuentro de Culturas” (Encounter of Cultures), changed from “Dia de la Raza”.

In the United States it is still called Columbus Day. But is it time to say “arrivederci” to Christopher Columbus? Deeptu Hajela and Dake Kang, member of the Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team report of the movement in the US to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. Deeptu Hajela and Dake Kang, member of the Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team report of the movement in the US to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. The

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.

Deepti Hajela and Dake Kang, member of the Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team report, in theirt article “Indigenous Peoples Day? Italians say stick with Columbus” on the movement in the US to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day.

The movement  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.

“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.

The article “Indigenous Peoples Day? Italians say stick with Columbus” was first published by AP reprinted here with an introduction by the Q.