While Cleveland Throws its 66th Annual Columbus Day Parade Monday, Cincy Celebrates Indigenous Peoples' Day

click to enlarge While Cleveland Throws its 66th Annual Columbus Day Parade Monday, Cincy Celebrates Indigenous Peoples' Day
Wikimedia Commons

Despite what most of our curriculum taught us in elementary school, Christopher Columbus was not just some innocent dude who stumbled upon a new continent.

Since 1937, Columbus Day has been a federal holiday celebrating the explorer's so-called "discovery" of the Americas, despite the fact the land was already inhabited by people. The holiday coincides with a massive celebration in most Italian-American communities, but many cities and states have grown increasingly weary of honoring a man who engaged in enslavement, decimating culture, rape, murder, outright theft and the genocide of the continent's indigenous peoples.

Last night, on its third vote in three years, Cincinnati City Council voted 6-0 (with city members Amy Murray and David Mann abstaining and Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman excused from the meeting) to no longer recognize Columbus Day, but rather celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Alaska, Oregon, South Dakota and Vermont do not recognize Columbus Day at all, and Hawaii instead celebrates Discoverer's Day, commemorating the Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii. Iowa and Nevada also do not celebrate Columbus Day as an official holiday, but the states' respective governors are "authorized and requested" by statute to proclaim the day each year.

Cincinnati joins Oberlin, who unanimously voted last year to make the change to Indigenous Peoples' Day, becoming the first city in Ohio to do so. As for Cleveland, we're still pretty big on celebrating the man of 1492.

Meanwhile, in Columbus, the city council voted to celebrate veterans rather than the explorer for the first time come Oct. 8.

When Oberlin voted to make the change in their city, Basil Russo — former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge and father of Marvel directors the Russo Brothers, who also serves as parade chairman for Cleveland's annual Columbus Day Parade — called the move “a subtle form of bigotry.”

If it's anything like last year, Cleveland's celebration will be a massive ordeal with nearly 100 entries in the two-hour long parade. Fortunately, the Cleveland bash is more of a celebration of Italian heritage and less that of Christopher Columbus the man. Yet the Italian-American community, one that I am proud to be part of, deserves a celebration that isn't associated with a man who helped dehumanize an entire culture.

Given the strength of the Italian-American communities in Cleveland, and the foundation Little Italy has within the core culture of Cleveland, it's doubtful there will be any changes to how we celebrate Columbus Day anytime soon. It's a shame, however, because Columbus Day goes against the very fabric of the history of Italians in America. Columbus was a man who came to an unknown land and completely destroyed it, whereas Italian immigrants came to the United States to build something bigger and better for future generations.

I'm proud to be an Italian-American, but there are better ways to be proud of our heritage without excusing the monstrous behavior of a historic figure just because we're from the same country of origin.

Well, come Monday, at least some of us will get a day off of work.