In May 2019, the Institute of History Archaeology and Education’s Peter Feinman started a series of articles about Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Part I was A Lose-Lose War.
He noted how, in April, New Mexico, Vermont, and Maine all joined “the growing number of cities, states, and municipalities that have renamed the October holiday for the people who lived in America long before the explorer arrived.”
Yet the pieces announcing these changes often “fail to note that the indigenous people presumably being lifted up have actual proper names, which are seldom mentioned.” Conversely, the pieces about the ditching of Columbus Day were usually not simple articles “of reporting. It mocked Columbus as well.” This was not helpful.
How did the Genoan sailing for Spain become “a revered figure in the first place?” There must have been “reasons to explain how this individual, sometimes in the masculine form and sometimes in the feminine form ‘Columbia’ became a symbol of the country, the capital city of the country, the name of cities, and the name of the renamed Kings College that Alexander Hamilton had attended.”
In Part II, Columbus and America, Feinman noted: “From the capital of the country to the unofficial anthems of the country to the symbol of the country to a big extravaganza celebration, Italian immigrants who wanted to become part of the melting pot as Americans saw the place of importance Columbus had in their new country.
“The Italians [were not considered] white when they arrived. [They] and went back even further in time [than the Irish or Germans] to link themselves to the American experience: all the way to Columbus, a person they knew America already revered. Those efforts would take physical and calendric form.
“In conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition, New York City erected a statue of Columbus at Columbus Circle at Columbus Avenue. A commission of Italian businessmen from around the United States contributed 60% of the funding needed to build the statue…
“The Knights of Columbus, an international Roman Catholic fraternal benefit society, lobbied state legislatures to declare October 12 a legal holiday. Colorado was the first state to do so on April 1, 1907.
“New York declared Columbus Day a holiday in 1909 and on October 12, 1909, New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes led a parade that included the crews of two Italian ships, several Italian-American societies, and legions of the Knights of Columbus. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt designated Columbus Day (then celebrated October 12) a national holiday in 1934.”
Part III tackled The Meaning of “Indigenous” and how tricky it is to truly define.
“The debate over Columbus Day provides an opportunity to discuss a number of serious issues” that I think have been addressed in an oversimplified manner.