NYC schools are renaming Columbus Day as Italian Heritage / Indigenous People’s Day

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The New York City public school system has eliminated the Columbus Day holiday and replaced it with “ Italian Heritage Day / Indigenous People’s Day, ” while Juneteenth has also been added as a school holiday for the first time.

On Tuesday morning, the city’s Department of Education posted the 2021-22 school calendar online without fanfare, replacing Columbus Day on Oct. 11 with Indigenous People’s Day.

After backlash from the city’s Italian-American leaders, the calendar was taken offline on Tuesday night and reposted with the holiday changed to “ Italian Heritage Day / Indigenous People’s Day. ”

“ City Hall wants Italian Heritage Day and Indigenous Peoples Day so that no one is left out, ” said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s spokesman New York Post.

The New York City public school system has eliminated the Columbus Day holiday and replaced it with `` Italian Heritage Day / Indigenous People's Day. ''  Mayor Bill de Blasio is seen above

The New York City public school system has eliminated the Columbus Day holiday and replaced it with “ Italian Heritage Day / Indigenous People’s Day. ” Mayor Bill de Blasio is seen above

People attend New York's annual Columbus Day Parade in 2019.  The annual event celebrates the day Christopher Columbus landed in America in 1492.

People attend New York’s annual Columbus Day Parade in 2019. The annual event celebrates the day Christopher Columbus landed in America in 1492.

When asked if City Hall was aware of the decision to delete Columbus Day from the school calendar, the spokesperson only told the outlet, “We disagree not to include Italian Heritage Day.”

Juneteenth, which celebrates the date of June 19 in 1865 when the last slaves were emancipated in the US, falls on a Sunday in 2022 and will be observed by the school system on June 20.

Monday June 27 is the last day of the school year for students in the city.

The first removal of Columbus Day without any mention of an ‘Italian Heritage Day’ provoked angry reactions from New York leaders in the Italian-American community.

Staten Island City Councilor Joe Borelli called the change “ insulting wake up nonsense ” in a tweet.

After reverting to the name of the holiday, the Ministry of Education noted, “ They tried, they got caught, they changed it, they covered up the mistake. Cowards. Just have the nerve to cancel the day. Curious what our mayoral candidates think? ‘

In March, Meisha Porter took over as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and would eventually oversee any changes to the school holiday calendar.

Participants march in the Juneteenth party parade through the streets of Harlem, New York in a file photo.  Juneteenth will be a new holiday for NYC schools next year

Participants march in the Juneteenth party parade through the streets of Harlem, New York in a file photo. Juneteenth will be a new holiday for NYC schools next year

In March, Meisha Porter took over as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and would eventually oversee any changes to the school holiday calendar.

In March, Meisha Porter took over as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and would eventually oversee any changes to the school holiday calendar.

Porter, the first black woman to hold the role of chancellor in the city, was promoted internally after climbing the school system sports in NYC, starting as an English teacher and most recently as the Bronx’s executive superintendent.

The debate over Columbus Day, and the legacy of Christopher Columbus more broadly, has been simmering across the country for years.

Italian-Americans see the Genoa-born explorer as a source of national and ethnic pride. Columbus made the first documented European contact with the Caribbean and Central and South America in 1492.

Columbus Day parades were originally celebrated in the 1800s, and the holiday was made official as a gesture of support for the community, which was suffering from xenophobia and discrimination at the time.

However, Columbus’s opponents regard him as a genocidal colonizer, and there is good evidence that Columbus brutally subjugated and enslaved the native Taino people in his quest for gold in the Caribbean.

As early as 2014, Seattle City Council voted unanimously to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, a move that angered the local Italian-American community but was applauded by Native American activists.

Chicago's controversial statue of Christopher Columbus was taken down by a crane in the early hours of last year, viewed by a municipal crew who helped remove it from Grant Park

Chicago’s controversial statue of Christopher Columbus was taken down by a crane in the early hours of last year, viewed by a municipal crew who helped remove it from Grant Park

It’s a debate that has taken place across the country, with cities and states voting to rename Columbus Day, which remains a federal holiday observed on the second Monday in October.

Last year, statues of Columbus were a frequent target of vandalism during Black Lives Matter protests across the country.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot ‘temporarily’ removed two prominent images of Columbus, citing security concerns. The images have still not been replaced, which caused furious protest among Italian Americans last month.

In Philadelphia, an alliance of Italian-American groups is suing Mayor Jim Kenney and the city for a “ long pattern of discrimination, ” including canceling the Columbus Day parade and tearing down a statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo.

They accuse Kenney of trying to erase Italian-American identity in the city, favoring rioters over people trying to protect images, and demoting a beloved police commander.

Mari Caraballo, with Golden Slippers Brigade in the center, waving her Italian flag as part of the Columbus Day parade on Broad Street in Philadelphia in 2017

Mari Caraballo, with Golden Slippers Brigade in the center, waving her Italian flag as part of the Columbus Day parade on Broad Street in Philadelphia in 2017

Last month, the Maine Monument in Columbus Circle was smashed with red paint by BLM protesters.  The Columbus monument in the circle remains hotly debated

Last month, the Maine Monument in Columbus Circle was smashed with red paint by BLM protesters. The Columbus monument in the circle remains hotly debated

They claim that Mayor Kenney had been part of attempts to falsely label Columbus a racist when he was the “first recorded civil rights activist in the Americas.”

The groups equated the mayor’s alleged persecution of Italian-Americans with the way the Ku Klux Klan had attempted to destroy “Columbus Day” in the 1920s and 1930s for their “intolerance towards Catholics and Italian immigrants.”

Mayor Kenney has called the lawsuit a “clearly deserving political ploy” that will waste resources.

Perhaps the most prominent statue of Columbus still standing in the US is the monument atop a 76-foot column in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle.

The statue has stood behind police barricades for nearly a year and the future remains hotly debated.

Who was Christopher Columbus and why is he so divided?

Christopher Columbus, (1451 - 1506)

Christopher Columbus, (1451 – 1506)

Born in 1451 in Genoa, Italy, Christopher Columbus secured his place in history by leading the first expeditions to establish European contact with the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Backed by the Spanish monarchy, Columbus undertook four expeditions across the Atlantic in search of a westerly seaway to the East Indies.

Columbus had convinced Spain’s Queen Isabella to fund his journey by promising that the riches he would accumulate would be used to fund a crusade to “ reclaim ” Jerusalem for Christians. Instead, he found new food, animals, and native people who, he wrote, were childlike and could be easily enslaved.

Even in his own time, Columbus was accused of cruelty and incompetence in his role as viceroy and governor of the Indies, and of brutal mistreatment of the indigenous Taino people on the island of Hispaniola.

Columbus’s supporters say many of the claims are exaggerated or false, and that the matter is clouded by a simultaneous smear campaign against both Columbus by his political rivals and northern European nations against Catholic Spain.

However, there is good evidence that Columbus brutally subjugated and enslaved the Taino people in the quest for gold.

In 2006, historians discovered a concurrent investigative report in Spanish archives, which revealed the results of an investigation into allegations that Columbus brutally ruled as governor.

The report contained reports of mutilation, torture, and cruelty shocking even to Columbus’s contemporaries, and resulted in his final dismissal as governor and temporary imprisonment by King Ferdinand.

“The Columbus government was characterized by a form of tyranny,” Consuelo Varela, a Spanish historian who saw the document, told journalists. “Even those who loved him had to admit the atrocities.”

About 60 years after Columbus’ arrival, Taino’s indigenous population in the Caribbean had been reduced from an estimated 250,000 to a few hundred as a result of slavery and death from new diseases.

However, for many Italian Americans, the Italian-born explorer remains an important symbol in their heritage.

Millions of Italian immigrants traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and via Ellis Island in New York in the late 1980s to 1920s to start a new life in America.

They faced xenophobia and prejudice, including one of the largest mass lynching in American history when 11 were murdered in New Orleans in 1891.

The Italian explorer thereby became a cultural hero for Italian immigrants to cling to during this time, and Columbus Day parades began in the late 1800s.

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