Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson has been elected as the new mayor of Chicago, promising to prioritize unity and compromise as he enters office. In this spirit, members of the city’s Italian American community are ready to work with the progressive politician who has been extremely vocal about his desire to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans claims that Johnson has been much more accessible than his predecessor, Lori Lightfoot, but his willingness to compromise on the elimination of Columbus Day is still up in the air given his past stance on the issue. In December of 2020, Johnson was the chief sponsor of a resolution to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Reconciliation Day on the second Monday of October in Cook County. At a virtual rally in support of this initiative, he stated that “As long as we are celebrating and using tax dollars to give people the day off to honor, to give homage, to someone like Christopher Columbus, that’s a failure of our political system.” However, much to Johnson’s displeasure, these efforts proved futile. Les Begay also spoke on behalf of Johnson’s efforts as the founder of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Coalition of Illinois, alleging that “this is not anti-Italian, it’s anti-Columbus.”
It is very difficult to make this claim when you consider how intertwined Columbus Day is with Italian American identity in this country, as the holiday was brought about by the lynching of 11 innocent Italians in New Orleans. This incident brought the US and Italy to the brink of war before President Benjamin Harrison managed to quell the tensions through the celebration of the very first Columbus Day the next year in 1892, on the 400th anniversary of the Italian explorer’s maiden voyage, as a reminder of the contributions that Italians have made to the United States.
At a similar rally in Pottawattomie Park one year later, Begay seemed to contradict this stance when he asserted that “we want to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Not share. Replace.” How can you claim that these efforts are not anti-Italian when the ultimate goal is to leave Italian Americans without a holiday to celebrate their heritage? He previously stated that “each October, when Columbus is honored, it further diminishes Native people, our history and culture.” Yet, I would argue that aiming to cancel Columbus Day would have that same impact on the Italian American community.
There are other solutions to this issue that would result in the celebration of both Native and Italian American culture, such as embracing Native American Heritage Day in November, without altering a centuries-old holiday tradition. However, it remains to be seen if Columbus detractors like the mayor-elect will keep their word as the future of Columbus Day in the city of Chicago hangs in the balance.
- Group pushes county to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day [Chicago Sun Times]
- Replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day — completely, Illinois coalition urges [Chicago Sun Times]
- It’s Time To Replace Columbus Day With Indigenous Peoples’ Day In Illinois, Activists Say At Monday Rally [Block Club Chicago]