When Columbus famously (or infamously) sailed the ocean blue in 1492, he was celebrated for his supposed courage and bravery. Five hundred and twenty-five years later, thousands of Americans still praise his voyage to the “New World,” with the second Monday of October being hailed as Columbus Day, a recognized government holiday.
In late August, the Los Angeles City Council joined Seattle, Minneapolis and Austin, along with numerous other cities, and removed Columbus Day from the city calendar, opting to replace it with Indigenous People’s Day. Although facing significant opposition from some Italian American groups and organizations — even though Columbus was Genoan and modern Italy was still a collection of independent city-states — claiming the eradication of Columbus Day diminishes Italian accomplishments and targets modern-day Italian Americans, activists pushed for the end of perceived government support for what led to a genocide of Native Americans.
When Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, he was met by friendly Natives whom he subsequently either enslaved and sold in Europe or forced to inhumanely labor in gold mines for his own immediate and personal economic gain. He set a precedent for the capitalization of Native land and the revoking of Natives’ human rights in the name of “progress.” The continual celebration of Columbus Day promotes the violent history against Native Americans and does not appropriately acknowledge the crimes committed against their people and culture.
Senior Libby Milano said, “Columbus Day commemorates a dark time in North American history and marks the beginning of the decimation of Native people. The trends set by Columbus continued for centuries after his arrival, causing the murder of millions of Natives. Based on my research on Native American history for National History Day, Columbus Day is not something to be proud of, but instead should be used to honor the lives and culture of those who were affected by his legacy.”
Opposition towards Columbus Day is especially pertinent this year following controversy over the removal of Confederate leaders’ statues in Charlottesville earlier this August. Members of the alt-right political movement and Nazi sympathizers marched spewing hateful propaganda in protest of Virginia’s proposed removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue in Emancipation Park. Marchers defended their rally and ignored the offensive nature of the statue to many African-Americans in the name of the preservation of Southern culture.
Columbus Day supporters often recycle the same argument: that Columbus Day is a testament to Italian culture and should be celebrated if, for nothing else, the history behind his journey. However, as responses to Charlottesville emphasized, some traditions should not be continued.