There is an ongoing movement to erase Columbus Day, and re-brand it “Indigenous People’s Day.” As an Italian-American, this makes me very sad, because, while I understand the modern re-casting of Columbus as a villain, this day has a context for us that is not about the man who discovered/invaded the New World.
Most Americans come from immigrants who were discriminated against when they came here, and Italians are no exception. Italian-American immigrants embraced and appropriated Columbus Day as their day of cultural pride, especially in larger cities like Boston, Philadelphia (where my family was), and New York. The day was not about celebrating Christopher Columbus, it was about celebrating our culture and our right to be here. Now that we are no longer considered or treated as an oppressed minority, this history gets shoved to the side in the name of restorative justice.
But this history should be discussed and remembered. “White privilege” is a slippery concept, when many “white” people faced discrimination as immigrants. By the way, my people weren’t even here until 1920, so don’t try to blame fucking slavery on us. Italians were considered “colored” under Jim Crow laws, and were treated accordingly. Perhaps if we talked more about how European immigrants were treated here, we could find more common ground in our present circumstances. The same shit directed at Mexicans now was directed at us then. My father told me about getting punished if he got caught speaking Italian, because he was supposed to be American, and Italian could get your ass kicked. He was very dark Sicilian, so he faced his share of shit.
I get that Christopher Columbus may not be the best symbol, but don’t take one immigrant culture’s day and give it to someone else. If Columbus is the problem, rename the day “Italian American Heritage Day” or some such thing, and use it as a reminder of our shared history as immigrants. If you want an Indigenous People’s Day, I am all for it. But don’t take a day of cultural celebration from one group and give it to another. Make it a federal holiday - I’m with you.
But I understand what Columbus Day has meant to my family, especially the older folks who faced down discrimination and struggled, and I can’t get on board with the erasure of their experience as immigrants, and their reclassification into “white people.” They had no privilege, and Columbus Day was their day of pride in who they were. Before long, that tradition will be erased, and our cultural history will be lost.