Stacy Pratt
August 31, 2017 10:27 am

The Los Angeles City Council voted this week to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in their city, following the same decision by several other cities including Denver, Seattle, and Albuquerque.

In a time when the history behind public monuments and celebrations is being questioned, the city’s decision was not without controversy. Italian-Americans embraced Columbus Day as a time to celebrate their heritage long before they lobbied for it to become a federal holiday in 1937. Councilman Joe Buscaino, a first-generation Italian-American and the only member to vote against the change, said that taking the Italian element out of Columbus Day would “cure one offense with another.”

But Councilman Mike Bonin, also Italian-American, said their ancestors came to “build something and not to destroy something.”

As a Mvskoke (Creek) person who lived in Italy for four years, I sympathize with the Italian-Americans who have embraced Columbus Day as a way to remember their proud, important heritage. However, the holiday is named after one man from Genoa, who sailed the ocean blue long before Italy was unified. It commemorates his role in “settling” the lands that would become the Americas.

On those lands were people — among them my ancestors — who suffered genocide, injustice, and generational trauma that continues to this day. The beginning of that history should not be celebrated, and Italian-Americans, who have brought so much good to our country, should not be commemorated with a holiday founded on brutality. Renaming and refocusing the holiday won’t erase anything that has happened, but, as L.A. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell (Wyandotte) said, it would bring “restorative justice” and right a “historical wrong.”

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