NYC schools replace 'Columbus Day' with 'Indigenous People Day', add 'Italian Heritage Day' after protests

The 2021-22 school calendar replaced 'Columbus Day' with 'Indigenous People's Day' but New York's Italian American community reacted with anger about the erasure of the famous Italian, Columbus


                            NYC schools replace 'Columbus Day' with 'Indigenous People Day', add 'Italian Heritage Day' after protests
(Getty Images)

New York City's public schools have decided to do away with the 'Columbus Day' holiday. The day will now be celebrated as the 'Italian Heritage Day' and the 'Indigenous People's Day' from now on, under the school system. The much-celebrated 'Juneteenth' will also be added as an official school holiday for the first time in 2022.

The changes were announced without any additional ceremony through the school's 2021-22 calendar posted by the city's Department of Education on Tuesday, May 4. In the calendar, the holiday celebrated as 'Columbus Day', which falls on October 11, was replaced by 'Indigenous People's Day'. However, this was met with backlash from Italian-American leaders because Columbus is one of the most famous Italians linked to America's history as a modern nation.

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“There is nothing wrong with celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but doing it at the expense of a day that celebrates Italian-American and history is downright insulting,” said City Council member Joe Borelli from Staten Island, who issued the statement with fellow City Council member Steven Matteo and congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis. 

"City Hall wants Italian Heritage Day and Indigenous People's Day so no one is left out," Mayor Bill de Blasio's spokesman told the New York Post. When asked whether the City Hall was aware of the decision to remove Columbus Day from the school calendar, the spokesperson reiterated "We do not agree with not including Italian Heritage Day."

The calendar was taken offline on that very evening and reposted with the holiday changed to 'Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People's Day'.

Italian-American Carmine Russo, who lives in The Bronx, holds up a combination flag of the United States and Italy outside of City Hall during a press conference and rally in support of the Christopher Columbus statue in Manhattan, on August 24, 2017. Following the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will 'conduct a 90-day review of all symbols of hate on city property,' including the statue of Christopher Columbus (Getty Images)

The Juneteenth holiday, which is celebrated on June 19 to mark the 1865 final emancipation of slaves in the United States, will be celebrated for the first time in 2022. Since June 19 falls on a Sunday in 2022, it will be celebrated by schools under the New York City system on June 20, Monday. The final day of the school year for students in the city will be June 27.

Even when the city had decided to initially replace 'Columbus Day' with 'Indigenous People's Day', leaders from New York's Italian American community had reacted with anger. Staten Island's City Councilman Joe Borelli had called the change 'insulting woke nonsense' in a tweet.

When changes were made to call the holiday 'Italian Heritage Day' as well, Borelli tweeted again. He said, "They tried, they got caught, they changed it, they covered the mistake. Cowards. Just have the gumption to cancel the day. Wonder what our mayoral candidates think?"

Spectators wave Italian flags during the 75th annual Columbus Day Parade in Midtown Manhattan on October 14, 2019 in New York City. Organized by the Columbus Citizens Foundation, the parade is billed as the world's largest celebration of Italian-American heritage and culture (Getty Images)


 



 

The change comes after debate over 'Columbus Day' and Italian explorer Christopher Columbus's legacy remained a hotpot of tension in the United States for years. While Italian Americans see the Genoa-born explorer as their national and ethnic pride, his detractors view him as a genocidal colonizer stemming from solid evidence of Columbus brutally enslaving the native Taino people in his pursuit for gold in the Caribbean Sea in 1492.

'Columbus Day' parades were a thing in the 1800s, and eventually, the holiday came to be as an extension of support for the community suffering from xenophobia and discrimination. But in 2014 Seattle's city council had voted unanimously to rename the 'Columbus Day' holiday as 'Indigenous People's Day', which was heavily criticized by the local Italian American community but lauded by Indigenous American activists.

Indigenous American tribes celebrate 'Indigenous Peoples' Day events at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center on October 13, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. In 2014, Seattle's city council had voted unanimously to rename 'Columbus Day' holiday as 'Indigenous People's Day' (Getty Images)

Last year, during the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests, several statues of Columbus were targets of vandalism throughout the US. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had even 'temporarily' removed two statues of the controversial explorer, citing safety concerns. That these statues are yet to be replaced drew angry outcry from Italian Americans as recently as April 2021.

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