In New Jersey and New York today is officially Columbus Day, in which the two states celebrate the culture and contribution of people of Italian decent in our communities. But this holiday is not celebrated nationally. The second Monday of October might annually marks Columbus Day in many parts the United States but not all states or region follow this observance. Instead, they celebrate other events on the day. In South Dakota the official holiday on this date is Native Americans’ Day (also known as Native American Day), while people in Berkeley, California, celebrate Indigenous People’s Day.
In Newark, we have a constant reminder in a sculpture depicting Columbus, made by artist Ciochetti Giuseppe, and erected by The Spices of the Guisippe Verdi Society and Presented by the Italians of the city of Newark, dedicated October 12, 1927. With the inspiration that reads, “Christopher Columbus Immortal Genoese Erected by the Italians in this Land Perceiver Through his Genius in the Year 1492”.
Description: A bronze portrait of Christopher Columbus stands atop a tall square base adorned with four bronze relief plaques depicting the commissioning, embarkation, voyage, and landing of Columbus. Each corner of the base, between the reliefs, is adorned with a standing female figure representing discovery. The female figures stand with their faces directed toward the sky and their hands raised to their chests. The corners above each female figure are carved with fluted stone columns, above which a bronze garland encircles the base.
In South Dakota, they celebrate Native American Day. The reason for this seems simple: 10% of our population is Native American and the legislature wanted to acknowledge them instead of Columbus. However, the meaning of it goes even deeper. Alaska and Oregon do not recognize Columbus Day at all. Hawaii calls it Discoverers’ Day, which commemorates the Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii, though not as a legal holiday.
When we celebrate Columbus Day, what are we celebrating? For most of us, we are taught in our schools that Columbus “discovered” America and it lead to the great migration out of Europe starting with the Jamestown group followed shortly by the Mayflower. This sounds reasonable right? Maybe not.
Communication is all about the language that we use. I’ve always felt that the term ‘Indian’ was incorrect when talking about the native people of the Americas. They are not Indian, people from the country of India are Indian. However, because of Columbus and the people that followed, our history books have labeled the indigious people of the Americas as ‘Indian.’ In fact, here in South Dakota, it is politically correct to say ‘Indian Country’ when talking about the reservations. To a growing number of Americans, the story of Columbus, history books ignore a great deal of what he did. I won’t get into it and you can make your own determinations, but let’s just say that it was not what one would consider a christian thing to do. Because of this history, there are groups that is now working to change minds when it comes to columbus day. They are called “Reconsider Columbus Day.”
While we might think of Columbus day as just another day on our calendar that we don’t really pay attention to and most people still have to work on, what are we communicating when we do still have it as a national holiday? Are we communicating the achievements of Columbus? Are we translating Columbus conquest, as the contribution of the Italian community in the Americas? That he set up the expansion of settlements that allowed the nation of the United States to exist? Or are we celebrating something else? Is there room to separate Columbus from the contributions of the Italian community that make up New Jersey and New York?
Should we change Columbus Day to Native American Day?
I don’t usually get too political here – politics is a dangrous pool that can drown you faster than the Mississippi – but living in South Dakota, this is an issue that I’ve seen first hand. Check out the video below and go to the Reconsider Columbus Day’s website – even check out an article from Al Neuharth (who is from South Dakota) of the USA Today – and let me know what you think. Should we change Columbus Day to Native American Day? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts – I know mine are affected by where I live and my work with Native Americans in the classroom, so I’d like to see what you think.