In a new world, ideas for a different face to represent Italian Americans
Every year, the same debate: Can we legitimately celebrate a holiday named for a conquistador? Can someone “discover” a continent, particularly one with millions of people already living there? Christopher Columbus’s legacy — the imperial instinct that led Europeans to settle in what eventually became the United States — also resulted in widespread death by disease, ethnic cleansing and slavery. “How is this still a thing?” John Oliver wondered about the federal holiday designated in 1937. “Columbus Day is a holiday with a brand problem,” Brian Braiker concluded in Digiday.
Many American cities have already stripped “Columbus Day” from municipal communications and observances and replaced it with Indigenous People’s Day.
But many Columbus defenders — citing his enterprise, his free-thinking belief in round-Earth science, the courage required to sail off with a team of dependents into the great blue unknown — prize this national recognition of Italian American heritage, and that mission seems beyond rebuke. In different ways, many of our holidays herald America’s constituent cultures: Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Casimir Pulaski Day (observed in Illinois) and others. Americans of Italian descent, who treasure Columbus Day, have a legitimate claim to national celebration, too.
If we need a day to hail this heritage, why let Columbus get in the way? There are so many Italian Americans a national holiday could honor. We asked eight prominent ones whom they’d pick.
ELLA T. GRASSO
FIORELLO LA GUARDIA
THOMAS D’ALESANDRO JR.