Leftists want to rewrite American history and have renewed calls to eliminate Columbus Day.
A movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day has gained momentum in liberal parts of the U.S., with Los Angeles in August becoming the biggest city yet to decide to stop honoring the Italian explorer.
But there’s one group that’s organizing to fight back: Italian-Americans.
The gesture to recognize indigenous people rather than the man who opened the Americas to European exploration has prompted howls of outrage from some Italian-American groups, who say eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive and historically inaccurate.
“We had a very difficult time in this country for well over a hundred years,” said Basil Russo, president of the Order Italian Sons and Daughters of America. “Columbus Day is a day that we’ve chosen to celebrate who we are. And we’re entitled to do that just as they are entitled to celebrate who they are.”
The debate over Columbus’ historical legacy is an old one, but it became emotionally charged after a similar debate in the South over monuments to Confederate generals flared into deadly violence in August at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In Akron, Ohio, a September vote over whether to dump Columbus opened a racial rift on the city council that was so heated conflict mediators were brought in to sooth tensions.
In New York, where 35,000 people marched in Monday’s Columbus Day parade, vandals last month doused the hands of a Christopher Columbus statue in blood-red paint and scrawled the words “hate will not be tolerated.” Activists demanded the city to change the parade’s name are expected to hold an angry demonstration.
On Sunday, three demonstrators interrupted a wreath-laying ceremony at the Columbus statue in Columbus Circle. Two dressed in fake chains. One wore a hooded white sheet. Police said one person was arrested.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, appointed a committee to evaluate whether monuments to certain historical figures should be removed, prompting a backlash from fellow Italian-Americans who vowed to defend the Columbus statue, which has stood over Columbus Circle for more than a century. But the mayor still marched in Monday’s parade.
“You can debate the historical figure of Christopher Columbus, but you can’t debate the contribution of Italian-Americans to this country,” de Blasio said at the start of the march.
Many Italians who migrated to the U.S. initially had a rough time. In 1891, 11 Italians were lynched in New Orleans by a mob that held them responsible for the death of a police official.
At the end of the 1800s, Italians began to link themselves more with Columbus. Italian-American businessman and newspaper owner Generoso Pope was among those who worked to get Columbus Day recognized as a federal holiday in 1937.
“It was one of the things that would allow them to become Americans symbolically,” said Fred Gardaphe, a professor of Italian-American studies at Queens College.
Columbus is celebrated in Latin America, too. A massive monument to the explorer, the Columbus Lighthouse, opened in 1992 in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico commemorates Discovery Day on Nov. 19, marking the day Columbus landed there.
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Ralph Arellanes, chairman of the activist group Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, said that as a Hispanic he supports Columbus Day.
“It was the marriage of two peoples creating a new people, in a new land,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article