Saturday, June 19

It’s time to end Columbus Day: An Open Letter to the City of Philadelphia

Image description: the marble Columbus Statue that was once displayed at Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia set against a black background with a crack going diagonally, struck by a red lightning bolt. In Red sans serif font the words "CONTRO COLOMBO", Italian for "against Columbus."

For too long we have honored colonizers and slave masters and silenced the history of Indigenous and enslaved peoples. It’s time for Philadelphia and the world to stop celebrating the architects of genocide and white supremacy. It’s time to end Columbus Day.

Contro Colombo: Italian Americans for Indigenous People’s Day

We are a growing group of Philadelphian Italian-Americans petitioning the City of Philadelphia to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. We stand in solidarity with groups like Indigenous 215 and Indigenous Peoples Day Philly who have been making this demand for years. For too long, members of the Italian-American community have stood behind Columbus and lifted him up as our hero, but any student of history can plainly see he was not. The historical record on Columbus establishes that he was a man who committed acts of genocidal brutality against Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans, considered appalling by even his contemporaries. Columbus is despicable and is a stain on our history.

Not in our name

For the last century, the Italian-American community has been invoked to justify Columbus monuments, symbols, place names, and the celebration of Columbus Day. However, there are millions of Italian-Americans, Italians in diaspora, and our famiglia in Italy who do not support Columbus. Many of our ancestors brought radical traditions with them to America, and once they arrived, joined in solidarity with other oppressed peoples fighting exploitation and racial hierarchy. Their memory is far more worthy of our respect than that of Columbus. 

We welcome people from all walks of life and ancestries to join the movement to end Columbus Day and honor Indigenous People’s Day. We also recognize the crucial role that we Italian-Amerians have to play in speaking out against the myth that all of us support Columbus, or that his symbols and monuments somehow do us an honor. Many people in our community feel that Columbus Day honors our past experiences with anti-Italian discrimination in the U.S. However, the truth is Columbus was chosen because he serves to establish white Italian-Americans on the “winning” side of history, assimilating our people into white supremacy. 

The history of Columbus Day is interwoven with fascism. During the 1920’s and 30’s, the Fascist Party in Italy courted Italian immigrant communities in the U.S., which they considered “colonies” of the Italian state. The Fascists and their sympathizers helped organize the first U.S. Fascist convention in Philadelphia and lobbied to make Columbus day a national holiday. Italian-Americans and our famiglia across the ocean should learn and celebrate our true history of oppression and resistance, not prop up lies we were told in grade school. For Italian-Americans who know our history, Columbus stands out like Mussolini as an enemy of the common people. We cannot afford to worship our enemies any longer. It’s time for us to decide once and for all which side of history to stand on.

Philadelphia Must Honor Indigenous People’s Day

In recent years, there have been calls to the City to abolish this holiday from Indigenous and Black-led organizations, and we affirm our support for these continued proposals. Philadelphia is located in Lenape-hoking, the ancestral lands of the Lenni Lenape. William Penn and the founders of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania swore to treaties with Indigenous peoples and yet violate these very treaties every day. Today, the city government continues to celebrate Columbus while erasing Indigenous peoples and their histories.

Though the City has established an Indigenous People’s Day, to be celebrated the weekend prior to Columbus Day, the day dedicated to Columbus specifically still holds a special place as an official City holiday. We stand alongside the unions that have fought for that day as an official holiday for City employees, but object to that holiday being observed as Columbus Day. We feel, like so many others, that this official holiday should belong instead to Indigenous People’s Day, and that Columbus Day should be abolished. 

Solidarity with Black and Indigenous Liberation

We encourage everyone to check out the Indigenous People’s Day Philly 2020 digital events, which uplift and celebrate Native artists and dignitaries. As many in our city and this nation have been engaged in civil rights protests for racial justice, we encourage folks to read and sign on to support all the demands of the Black Philly Radical Collective. Further, because of our community’s part in the installation and preservation of some of the worst monuments to white supremacist figures, we think it’s important to state that we unequivocally support the work of Black movement leaders, such as Philly R.E.A.L. Justice and Black Lives Matter Philadelphia to remove monuments to Frank Rizzo. Likewise, we support the work of groups like Indigenous 215 who have advocated for monuments to Christopher Columbus to be removed. As members of the Italian American community in Philadelphia, we support the removal of all public monuments devoted to symbols of white supremacy and violence, like Christopher Columbus and Frank Rizzo. Furthermore, we unequivocally support proposals to abolish the Columbus Day Holiday across the United States, to be replaced with Indigenous People’s Day. Finally, we affirm that instead of focusing only on the comfort and opinions of white Italian-Americans, this conversation should be centered around the people who have experienced the violence of colonialism, racism and brutality which is valorized by Columbus Day. We must acknowledge that renaming a holiday is only a symbolic step and that we should be building towards a future where land is returned to Indigenous people and reparations are given to the descendents of enslaved people. We will strive to repair our relationships with Black, Brown and Indigenous communities and move forward by following their leadership. We recognize the fight for justice as a long one – involving much more than removing symbols like monuments and holidays. We will continue to raise our voices in solidarity, honoring our ancestors who had the courage to fight for a decent, equitable, and just world for all of us. In that spirit, we hope you will join us in our call to the City of Philadelphia to abolish the official Columbus Day holiday, and replace it with Indigenous People’s Day.

This letter was collaboratively written by the Philly Radical Italian Network.

You may sign on to the letter here if you wish to support the demands above. We welcome support from anyone regardless of their origins or geographic location.

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