Bye Columbus Day

Chicago Public Schools finally replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day

My maternal grandfather Dominick Colella came over from Italy when he was 12 years old. At that time our country was far more welcoming to immigrants and his family was allowed to come here for a better life. I always looked up to my grandfather. He was a story teller, a hard worker, and someone who cared about people. I looked up to him so much that I named my first born child after him.

It’s important to find honorable people that inspire us and that we can look up to. As someone with Italian ancestry let me just reiterate what many have been saying for generations…Christopher Columbus is not it.

Growing up I always heard the tired regurgitated lines of “…in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America…”. It wasn’t until college that I learned that when Columbus came to America he raped, enslaved, murdered, and tortured indigenous Arawak people. Columbus never deserved a holiday. The recent step by Chicago Public Schools to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is one Native Americans and other activists have been fighting for for years.

There are many other, appropriate, Italian Americans that could be celebrated if Italian Americans felt that they needed someone to look up to.

Chicago Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward) and Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) are extremely opposed to replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. But let’s be clear, Alderman Sposato and Alderman Napolitano don’t really care about celebrating Columbus or not, they are threatened by the idea of anyone trying to challenge their problematic white history. They are fragile white people, both of them are textbook examples of white fragility. For these Alderman who are clearly unaware of what white fragility is, “it is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves”. For example, Alderman Sposato saying he will bring an “army of Italians” to the next Board of Education meeting and the fact that he even tries to compare Columbus and Dr. King.

As a white person, as someone who has half Italian ethnicity, I’m embarrassed by their actions and their resistance to replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

Teaching true history is necessary in our society. There are age appropriate ways to teach the truth about Columbus to children. Last year I had my high school students research what Columbus actually did and then create 1st grade age-appropriate yet historically accurate books. The students then took the books to a local elementary school and read the books to the 1st graders there. Many resources exist already to teach children of all ages what Columbus actually did. Many states and cities have stopped celebrating the holiday.

In time, nearly all people will realize that honoring a raping murder is not a good idea. It’s time that white people, especially Italian American white people, speak up. The name Columbus, should be said with the same disgust as the name Hitler, Mussolini, and every other person who has committed atrocities in history. The Columbus “holiday” needs to be erased from the fabric of our country.

It is now time for all of Chicago to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day.

It is beyond time to honor the people who were here first.

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To view this piece on ChicagoNow click here.

Photo courtesy of New Mexico Political Journal

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