Monday is Indigenous Peoples Day, otherwise known as Columbus Day, and in many conservative and Italian-American circles, just this statement alone has caused quite the uproar and controversy in recent years.
For them, Christopher Columbus was a hero for “discovering” the Americas in 1492 and is now viewed as a symbol of Italian-American heritage and legacy.
This, of course, grossly simplifies and misrepresents who he was and what he did.
While it is still difficult for many white Americans to admit, Columbus was not a hero. His arrival to the Americas ushered in an unfathomable genocide.
After accidentally sailing to the wrong continent, Columbus enslaved and killed millions of Native Americans. In fact, he and his men massacred 85% of the Taíno people in just a matter of decades.
While in the Caribbean, Columbus sold underage girls into sex trafficking, facilitated the kidnap and rape of a Carib woman, and cut off the ears of Native leaders as retribution for “failing to be helpful to the Spaniards when fording a stream.”
Five centuries years later, the reality of Columbus’s brutal colonization is finally starting to set in.
After decades of outcry from Native Americans, states and cities are beginning to understand that glorifying Columbus with statues and a federal holiday is nothing short of perverse.
His successful voyage to the Americas does not magically negate all of the atrocities he committed in South America and the Caribbean.
And while many have argued that he was simply a product of his time, even the Spanish monarchs thought he was a tyrant, according to a lost document that resurfaced in 2006.
Today, 15 states and more than 130 cities in the US celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of or in addition to Columbus Day. South Dakota became the first state to recognize the holiday in 1989, where Native Americans account for nearly 10% of the population.
For many Native Americans, Columbus Day represents the violent history of European colonization in the Western Hemisphere, while Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates and honors the histories and cultures of Indigenous peoples across the Americas.
As more and more states choose to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day over Columbus Day, some Italian-Americans might feel as if they are losing an icon, but there are far better Italian role models than Columbus.
Sacco and Vanzetti, Vito Russo, or Angela Bambace—all of whom fought for justice and human rights—are just some replacements that come to mind.
It’s high time for Americans to come to terms with the fact that Columbus’s legacy was not one of discovery, but one of violence and genocide.
Moving forward, the people we choose to honor and memorialize should be worthy of the praise we give them.