The shift to commemorate National Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day is gaining momentum. While some U.S. states and municipalities changed their celebrations in the 1990s, President Joe Biden was the first U.S. president to commemorate the holiday in 2021. A growing number of people are rejecting the celebration of Christopher Columbus, who played a key role in the genocide and colonialization of Indigenous American communities, including the Lucayan and Taíno. Instead, the renamed holiday recognizes and celebrates the contributions of Indigenous people to the Americas and the world.
History of Columbus Day
Columbus Day was first celebrated in 1792, to mark the 300th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. In 1892 Columbus Day became an official, proclaimed holiday, and in 1934, Columbus Day became a legally recognized national holiday. In 1971, Columbus Day was designated as the second Monday in October and is often celebrated with office closures and parades.
Because the explorer was Italian, Columbus Day is also known as Italian-American Heritage Day and is an important celebration for many Italian Americans. The purpose is to celebrate Italian-American culture while recognizing the many contributions of immigrants to the United States. In fact, between 1880 and 1924, more than four million Italian immigrants reached the United States, many of whom faced blatant discrimination for not being “White enough.” Italian-American Heritage Day seeks to recognize the hardships faced by and the resilience of Italian Americans.
Italian-American Heritage Day is in line with how most people view Columbus Day today – less about a singular explorer and more to do with the courage of immigrants seeking a better life for themselves and their families.