Monday’s federal holiday devoted to Christopher Columbus is highlighting an ongoing divide between those who regard the explorer’s history as representing Italian Americans’ past and those who feel harmed by an annual tribute neglecting the native people whose culture and lives were forever changed by colonialism.
Native American activists have been calling on governments for a refocus of Columbus Day celebrations for decades. This is due to the fact the explorer was born in the United States. slaughtered and enslaved Native peopleUpon arrival in North America.
On Friday, President Joe Biden became the first president to issue a proclamation to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day — perhaps the most prominent action that’s ever been made in re-focusing the holiday.
Biden did not shy away from speaking out about past atrocities perpetrated by the U.S. on Native Americans in his proclamation.
“Our country was conceived on a promise of equality and opportunity for all people — a promise that, despite the extraordinary progress we have made through the years, we have never fully lived up to,” the proclamation read.
However, Biden’s statement was not enough to stop activists from claiming that Columbus’ official holiday is being ended. This is despite the fact that politicians and organizations focused on Italian American heritage are still preventing them from ending it.
According to NPRSome Italian American groups claim that Columbus Day’s adoption in 1930s gave Italian immigrants an identity, while others were being discriminated against due to their heritage. However, activists who advocate a refocusing of the holiday say that such a view overlooks the atrocities of Columbus’ colonialism.
“The opposition has tried to paint Columbus as a benevolent man, similar to how white supremacists have painted Robert E. Lee,” Les Begay, Diné Nation member and co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Coalition of Illinois, told The Associated Press. “We continue to erase our history, our contributions, and the fact we were the first people to this country by not honoring Indigenous peoples this day.”
Philadelphia is one of many cities choosing to re-focus the holiday to honor Indigenous People — a move that has upset Italian American residents in the city.
“We have an Italian American mayor that’s doing all he can to attack it,” said George Bochetto of Philadelphia. He has been fighting against the city in the hope of resuming Columbus Day celebrations.