CHICAGO — Chicagoans celebrated Columbus Day on Monday, with many believing the holiday is a simple celebration of Italian Americans. But others say looking at the holiday in that fashions sanitizes Christoper Columbus’ legacy.
Smiles and excitement lined State Street for the 69th annual Columbus Day Parade. Along the route, a celebration of Italian heritage and salutes to Christopher Columbus.
“Columbus Day, for us, Italian Americans is a sacred day of tradition and honor and it had been for 130 years,” said Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans president Ron Onesti.
However, hanging over the parade was tension between those who wanted to celebrate Columbus the explorer and others who instead used the annual holiday to remember colonialism’s devastating impact on native people.
“There are those who hurtfully and sadly and ignorantly cling to a past that we do not need to hold to,” said Alderman Daniel LaSpata (1st Ward).
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy proclaimed Monday “Indigenous People’s Day.”
To educate students about the suffering native people endured following Columbus’s arrival, school across the country, including Chicago Public Schools, have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day.
“There are hundreds of thousands of students all over the city of Chicago and Cook County that are celebrating Indigenous People’s Day today,” said Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.
Last year, the fight over Columbus’s legacy in Chicago intensified when protestors went after statues of Columbus. As a result, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered the statues’ removal until officials could figure out what to do.
As of Monday, there are no updated plans for the statutes but the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans has brought a lawsuit.
Onesti says he embraces Indigenous People’s Day as long as it doesn’t replace Columbus Day.
“It’s about people taking away our one day that we have to celebrate our traditions,” Onesti said. “We have one day and one ethnic group should not stand on the shoulders of another ethnic group in order to get a day. We want them to have the day. But what about us getting our day?”
In the most significant effort to refocus the federal holiday, President Biden issued a proclamation of Indigenous People’s Day alongside Columbus Day.