Kshama Sawant thinks we should celebrate an Italian Heritage Day.
  • Kelly O
  • Kshama Sawant thinks we should celebrate an Italian Heritage Day.

As David Schmader already mentioned, today is Indigenous Peoples Day in Seattle, which is a day worth celebrating. (And you should definitely also read Seattlish's excellent guide on how to celebrate our newest holiday, too.)

Seattle isn't the first city to make this change, but it may be the highest-profile city to do so, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Council Member Kshama Sawant, who's been taking part in a media tour to talk about why Indigenous Peoples Day is a big deal. Today, Sawant appeared on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman to discuss it. I recommend this interview because it explains why the change is important and demonstrates how to talk to people who just don't understand the meaning behind the holiday.

Mike Easton, owner of the reportedly excellent Pioneer Square pasta joint Il Corvo, doesn't seem to agree with Sawant. In a blog post titled "The Last Columbus Day," Easton writes:

Sure, maybe all the 'facts' about Christopher Columbus are not correct, and maybe the history books have excluded some of the more gruesome and unacceptable practices of that time period, but if we go around abolishing every holiday that has a questionable origin, or includes a person with a checkered past, we might not have any left?

In the post, Easton says he's "all for celebrating" an Indigenous Peoples Day, but that the new holiday should be celebrated on one of the "empty days" of the calendar. (I called Il Corvo and left a message for Easton but haven't heard back.) The thing is, as Sawant explains, this move isn't about taking away from Italians, but giving honor back to its rightful recipients. The symbolism of changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day is a big deal. It represents a shift in societal perspective, and it indicates a movement, however small, toward justice. And this decision has absolutely nothing to do with Columbus's heritage. As Sawant explains on Democracy Now!:

...we should celebrate an Italian Heritage Day to celebrate the culture of the Italian community and also to celebrate the wonderful, courageous work that Italian Americans have done in their fight against racism, in their leading work in the early labor movements of the United States and the work they’re doing today as social justice activists.

I agree with Sawant, here. We absolutely should celebrate Italian Heritage Day (and maybe Sawant should lead that charge). I just don't understand why a small-but-vocal group of Seattle-based Italian Americans are choosing to die on this particular hill. When I think of admirable Italians, Columbus isn't in the top 25. (Number one on my list, for the record, is Leonardo da Vinci. And I would be all for celebrating a Leonardo da Vinci Day.) As most Italian American critics of Indigenous Peoples Day point out, they're not fans of what Columbus has come to stand for in American history. So why wouldn't they want to divorce their proud heritage from a man who, by their own account, has come to symbolize them in the national consciousness? I don't think these opponents of Indigenous Peoples Day are bad people, but I do think they're demonstrating a lack of empathy and a fear of change that will eventually look thoughtless to future generations.