Should Columbus still be celebrated?


Media: Chloe Han

Illustration by Chloe Han ’22

The celebration of Columbus Day has been a contentious topic for the past couple of years. For many Italian Americans it is a holiday of national pride and a reminder of the struggles Italian immigrants of the early 1900s faced. For Native Americans, however, it is a painful reminder of genocide, violence, and colonialism. So, is Columbus Day still a necessary part of American culture, or have we progressed past the need for this celebration? To make the issue less divisive, we should look at this issue as a school, discuss it within Advisory, and hold workshops to understand the history of Columbus, indigenous people and Italian immigrants who had been oppressed. 

To many, replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day promotes justice and rights the past wrongs done to Native Americans. Yet, the substitution  means more than the removal of Columbus from a pedestal. It is an attack on the cultural heritage of many Italian Americans who see Oct. 11 as acknowledgement of the historical struggles their ancestors faced when landing in this country. 

We need to re-examine the significance of naming national holidays after historical figures. In American history, only one other person shares that same honor with Columbus: Martin Luther King Jr., a figurehead for change and progress in the Civil Rights Movement. Should Columbus be placed on the same pedestal as MLK? The “Columbus Day versus Indigenous People’s Day” debate often results in divisiveness as the conversation gets too quickly shifted into a game of which group deserves a holiday more rather than why Columbus has become the figure to represent Italian heritage. The issue many Native Americans take with Columbus Day isn’t the fact that Italian Americans are celebrating their history and heritage — it’s the fact that the individual they’re channeling their celebration through was a brutal colonist who catalyzed the genocide of their people.

Marty Campagnoli, an Italian student at Hill, commented on the celebration of Columbus in America. “I believe that there are many other more efficient ways to memorialize the oppression Italian immigrants faced in America other than celebrating such a controversial person whose association with Italy is only the fact that he was born there. Columbus’ exploration was done at Spain monarchy’s service at a time when Italy was not even a country. I do not think it would be disrespectful at all. On the contrary, I believe Italian Americans would appreciate not to be associated with the horror that the American continent faced after Columbus’s discovery.”

No easy answer can end this debate. Just removing the holiday without replacement would no doubt be disrespectful to the struggles the Italian community has faced in America. On the other hand, ignoring the injustice done by Columbus and continuing to blindly uplift and idolize a figure who represents pain, subjugation, and loss of freedom will not only be disrespectful to Native Americans but also antithetical to the values the United States holds as a nation. It’s clear that the issue isn’t as black and white as it first seems to be; but, as it stands, there needs to be a change in how the United States celebrates Oct.11, how the country decides to move forward and recognize its violent history and how it honors those that our country failed in the past.