Good­bye, Colum­bus?

In a new world, ideas for a dif­fer­ent face to rep­re­sent Ital­ian Amer­i­cans

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - — Adam B. Kush­ner

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.

CHRIS BUZELLI FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Il­lus­tra­tions by Chris Buzelli for The Washington Post

ELLA T. GRASSO

TONY BEN­NETT

ROBERT GALLO

JOHN BASILONE

MAR­CELLA HAZAN

FIORELLO LA GUARDIA

THOMAS D’ALE­SAN­DRO JR.

FRANK STELLA

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