The city of New York never lets an excuse for a parade go by, and so it is that today hundreds of its burghers accompanied by the usual collection of elected officials - and those hoping to be elected - will shortly be marching up Fifth Avenue in an annual tribute to Christopher Columbus, the mariner who discovered the New World.
But Columbus Day, which technically falls on 12 November but is celebrated in the United States on the second Monday in October, is no longer a holiday that 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. More than that, 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 any kind of national hero back in 1992 when it decided it would rename 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, including the American Indians.
More than 20 years later, the example set by Berkeley is gaining more and more traction. Earlier this year Minneapolis, in Minnesota, agreed it would no longer observe Columbus Day. It would still be a holiday like everywhere else – schools off, banks too – but there too it would be in honour of indigenous tribes, most of which were long ago lost. 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. “By this resolution, you say to all Italian-Americans that the city of Seattle no longer deems your heritage or your community worthy of recognition.”
For now though Gotham, where old parade traditions die hard, is holding the fort for Italian-Americans and Columbus. For how much longer, though, no one knows.
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