Italian-Americans look to celebrate their culture as Columbus Day draws critiques over explorer’s legacy

Chicago News
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CHICAGO — With Columbus Day on the calendar for this coming Monday, the holiday remains a point of contention between Italian-Americans who say they’re celebrating their culture and activists who condemn the explorer for mistreating indigenous people. 

Carlos Vaniglia said he has been coming to the Christopher Colombus parade in Little Italy for more than 50 years, but there will be a lot less fanfare tomorrow.  

“We’ve never had problems, then all of a sudden this year it’s like the world woke up and hated Columbus,” Vaniglia said. “A lot of us in the italian community now see this as an anti-italian movement.”

Protesters clashed with police over the summer when they tried to tear down a statue of Columbus in Grant Park, calling it a “symbol of white supremacy.” 

Later, the city removed all his statues and Chicago Public Schools dropped his name from the federal holiday, calling it “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” instead. 

“We want [Native Americans] to have their own holiday, we will march with them and celebrate and mourn everything that is all about the indigenous people; we just don’t believe that it should be at the cost of the expense of our federal holiday,” said Ron O’Nesti, Joint Civic Community of Italian-Americans. 

Some Italian Americans say they aren’t opposed to the idea of an Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but say they want to continue celebrating Columbus as well.

“It’s not just about Columbus, it’s bigger than that,” O’Nesti said. “It’s about our heritage, it’s about our food, it’s about our culture.”

Volunteers came together Sunday to keep Italian traditions alive. And while the pandemic cancelled the Columbus Day parade, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans are hosting a rally at Arrigo Park Monday. 

The group says it doesn’t need to be one or the other – it’s important to respect all cultures, and their holidays. 

“Destroying history it really not doing nothing, you’re just fooling yourself if you want to hide history,” Vaniglia said.

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