Sounding Off: Columbus Day should not be a stand-in for an Italian American heritage day 

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Columbus Day is a holiday surrounded by controversy. Originating in 1892, the holiday started as a way to celebrate on Italian-Americans. Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus.

In 1892, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison created Columbus Day as a way to promote Italian-American inclusion in American society. The move was done in response to the 1891 lynching of 11 Italian-Americans in New Orleans. To this day, I can say that the creation of an Italian-American holiday has been greatly appreciated by many, including my family. That being said, Christopher Columbus was a horrible person whose genocidal legacy should not be celebrated. In addition to the fact that the observance of his holiday is an insult to the Indigenous people of the region, Italian-Americans should also not be ok with the fact that this is who was chosen as the group’s poster boy. In short, it would totally be fine to have an Italian-American heritage day, it just shouldn’t be named after Columbus, and should probably be assigned to a date that isn’t Indigenous Peoples Day. 

In addition to the obvious reason to nix Columbus Day – that he is not a person worth celebrating – another reason is that he’s just not a good representative of Italian heritage in the first place. Being from the late-13th century, the area of Italy where he was born, Genoa, was its own standalone republic. The concept of Italy as one country did not come into being until 369 years after Columbus’ infamous 1492 voyage, so technically, the man wouldn’t have even identified himself as Italian. Whether or not he would have even referred to himself as Genovese is debatable, and that leads to our next point: Columbus was funded by Spain. 

Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain were the ones to sponsor Columbus’ journey West, and therefore, he came to the Americas as a representative of the Spanish imperial forces, not of Genoa. Also, just as an aside, those monarchs are the same two who began the Inquisition, in 1492 as well, so any association with them is just not a good one. 

Columbus’ venture was funded by Spain, and came from the standalone republic of Genoa. His lack of Italian heritage combined with the genocide he committed when he came to America means there is no reason to celebrate him. Photo by oriana.italy on Flickr.

Now that we’ve established that Columbus did not really have Italian heritage, nor did he sail for any state in the region that would become Italy, let’s talk about what should be done about the day. The best part about searching for alternatives to the Columbus Day problem is that a bunch of really great ones are already out there. According to CBS News, mayor Michelle Wu of Boston declared this Monday to be “Italian American Heritage Day,” while acting mayor Kim Janey brought Indigenous Peoples day to the city last year.  

The idea for Indigenous Peoples Day was conceived in 1977 by Indigenous peoples at a United Nations conference, according to NPR. It celebrates the people whom Columbus terrorized, who lived in these lands prior to the invasion of conquerors seeking profit and glory. Observation of the day has slowly gained more and more traction, and in the past two years, U.S. President Joe Biden has issued official proclamations about the day. 

While these are all necessary steps to correct what has been a horrid example of whitewashing in this country, I believe that one more step should be taken in order to move on from Columbus Day. While the name change to Italian-American Heritage Day is definitely needed, it should not be celebrated on the same day as Columbus Day was, as that’s just a rebrand. It should be its own entity, and there’s a perfect day to put it that comes full-circle with the original meaning of the day: March 14. 

March 14, 1891 was the date that the New Orleans lynching occurred, so it would be more appropriate to observe a holiday in support of Italian-Americans on a day that has this historical significance. This way, Indigenous peoples can have their own holiday without having to deal with another culture’s conflicting holiday, and Italian Americans can celebrate their heritage without having to rally behind a genocidal figurehead that doesn’t even represent them. 

3 COMMENTS

  1. there were several indian tribes that held africans as slaves , yet not only do native american organizations refuse to apologize, they dont even acknowledge that it existed.

  2. Many of the disparaging stories about Christopher Columbus were actually invented in 1900s by the Ku Klux Klan as a means of slandering Columbus, Italians and Catholics.

    When Columbus landed after his incredible voyage, he came to the aid of the Taino people who were being plagued and enslaved by the cannibalistic Caribs. He wasn’t even in the Americas very long. There were atrocities that occurred after he was gone, but Spanish also intermarried with the native people which led to the people we call Hispanic or Latino today.

    History is complex and so was Columbus, but it cannot be denied that there would be no America and none of us would exist without him. Indoor plumbing, modern medicine, hospitals, air travel, the freedoms we have, none of it would be exist had he not ventured into the unknown.

  3. Sorry, Sam, but that is total bunk. However, since you like the idea of an “Italian-American Day,” might I suggest that you consider October 12th since October 12, 1492, was the day when Columbus first landed on the shores of what we now call “The Americas”? He was, in essence, the first Italian immigrant to this hemisphere, so “Italian-American Day” would be appropriate as a title. And, since this is America and the indigenous peoples were not – are really still not even though they can vote in Federal elections [like the Puerto Rican people] – “Americans”, it would be more fitting for them to have a different day to be recognized – and THEY should pick it, not you, not me, not the government.

    And may I suggest that you have a little more respect for the origins of your nation. If you study how most other nations originated, ours origins, our growth, are almost benign by comparison. We, at least, acted with the compassion of the times due to our Christian ethic. And, even today, if you do not like our nation, you are free to leave it for a better one – and I’m sure that you could name some that are better, can’t you?

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