Somehow, most of the country still celebrates Columbus Day, rather than recoiling in horror. There was a Columbus Day parade in New York this weekend, another in Boston, another in Providence. They all sound like a lot of fun (grilled sausages and peppers at the Rhode Island parade!) but gee whiz I just can't imagine the cognitive dissonance of waving happily at slow-moving floats on a day named after a genocidal maniac.
But what's the right way to observe Columbus Day?
There's a growing clamor around the country to "fix" Columbus Day by turning it into something else — but politicians, the people who can actually make that official, are running from the idea in terror. So for now it's unavoidable: we're stuck with this "holiday," for lack of a better word, at least for now. Even if Columbus had been a swell guy, its origins are super-gross: President Roosevelt made today a federal holiday in the 1930s, a clever ploy to buy votes from Italian Americans.
And hey, celebrating Italian heritage legitimately sounds like a nice idea! There are a lot of great folks who hail from Europe's boot: Roberto Benigni, who could object to him? Leonardo da Vinci, he's so great they named a ninja turtle after him. Galileo and Marconi both did some swell work, and it's a shame they never met. Isabella Rossellini seems fun.
City Council Member Bruce Harrell certainly agrees, and an email his office sent to council colleagues on Friday said he planned to introduce a proclamation establishing "Italian-American Heritage" today. The timing is maybe not great, though, since today's the day that Seattle now recognizes as a time to observe the terrible harm that Columbus did to indigenous people. So, maybe hold off on that by a day or two, Bruce.
As it stands, recognizing indigenous people seems like an appropriate transformation for Columbus Day. But good luck winning national adoption with that idea: there's basically zero national traction right now for Columbus Day reform.
President Obama issued a proclamation honoring Columbus (his "legacy is embodied in the spirit of our Nation") while also acknowledging all the, you know, subjugation and pestilence he brought. At the time of writing, of the current presidential candidates had anything to say on the topic, which is itself pretty telling.
A handful of cities have joined Seattle in establishing this as Indigenous Peoples Day, but most just grill sausages and throw a parade.
Part of the problem of "fixing" Columbus Day is that its origins are just incredibly icky. Around the time that Roosevelt decided we should observe it, Mussolini had just made it a holiday in Italy. Roosevelt's decision was supported by various pro-fascist organizations in America. Early celebrations in New York featured fascist chanting and salutes.
Okay, we don't do THAT anymore, so congratulations everyone. Maybe, in addition to celebrating Italian heritage and indigenous people, we could also find a little time to celebrate the defeat of fascism? That would be a nice flipping of its origins, right?
But that would make for a kind of muddled holiday. What do you call the holiday when we solemnly remember the slaughter of native people, recognize the talents of Isabella Rossellini, and also decry totalitarian regimes? Those all sound like worthy goals, but you can't cram them all into the same day. At this point, October 12 has basically turned into a national day of disagreement.