The city of New York never lets an excuse for a parade go by and so it was that thousands of its burghers accompanied by the usual collection of elected officials (and those hoping to be elected) marched up Fifth Avenue in an annual tribute yesterday to Christopher Columbus, the mariner who discovered the New World.
But Columbus Day is no longer a holiday everyone feels comfortable about. It endures in New York in part because of its large Italian community – Columbus was from Genoa – but the explorer’s grip on the imagination has slipped elsewhere. Some cities feel he is not a man to be honoured at all.
Berkeley, the always progressive city near San Francisco, led the charge to ditch Columbus as a national hero in 1992 when it renamed the holiday “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”. The message was clear: a singular consequence of Columbus opening to the door to European colonisation of the Americas was the decimation of those who had been living here before.
More than 20 years later the example set by Berkeley is gaining traction. Earlier this year Minneapolis agreed it too would redesignate the holiday in honour of indigenous tribes. Seattle, in Washington State, also recently decided to take the same route.
Some Italian groups aren’t best pleased. “Italian-Americans are deeply offended,” Lisa Marchese, a lawyer affiliated with the Order Sons of Italy in America,” told The Seattle Times. For now though New York, where old parade traditions die hard, is holding the fort.Reuse content