CHICAGO — There will be a lot less fanfare on Columbus Day in Chicago this year.
As criticism of Christopher Columbus’ place in history has grown, clashes erupted over the removal of statues in his honor this summer and Chicago schools officially dropped his name from the holiday.
Traditionally, Monday would be marked with a parade that celebrates Columbus’ voyage to America and Italian American culture. However, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, facing a reckoning over Columbus’ legacy and concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, dropped plans for the parade.
The organization plans to host a rally and car procession on Monday, according to its website. Organizers did not immediately return requests for comment. The city has no scheduled events.
“While there are no events organized by the City this weekend, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) will be monitoring weather conditions and any event or activity that should arise in relation to the holiday weekend,” said Mary May, a spokesperson with OEMC, in a statement. “As always, OEMC and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) encourage everyone to wear masks and for all activity organized by residents to follow the City’s COVID-19 precautions and rules.”
A number of large cities have made the switch from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in an effort to reframe the day in honor of Native American history and culture.
Some Italian Americans say celebrating Columbus is a celebration of their heritage. But activists around the country have condemned the explorer, pointing to his mistreatment of Indigenous people after he landed in the Americas in 1492.
For the first time, the second Monday in October will be marked solely as “Indigenous People’s Day” on Chicago Public Schools’ calendar.
The Chicago Board of Education’s vote in February to stop observing Columbus Day drew praise from some educators and activists. But Sergio Giangrande, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, in February called it “a slap in the face of the more than 500,000 Italian Americans in Chicago, and the 135 million Italian Americans worldwide.”
In dropping Columbus’ name, the board held that the district would continue celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day. CPS previously used both names on its calendar, and board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland said it was their responsibility to lead on the issue.
Long before CPS, South Dakota changed Columbus Day to Native American Day in 1990. The city of Berkeley, California, moved to Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992, and in the ensuing years many communities have made similar substitutions, including Evanston.
Earlier this summer, Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered the statues of Christopher Columbus removed from Chicago’s Grant and Arrigo parks overnight, sparking continued debates among Italian American leaders and politicians about Columbus’ legacy and how the city should proceed.
Lightfoot said in a series of tweets this summer that the statues were removed “until further notice.”
“We took this step in response to demonstrations that became unsafe for both protesters and police, and to efforts by individuals to independently pull the Grant Park statue down in an extremely dangerous manner,” Lightfoot said in the tweets. “This step is an effort to protect public safety and to preserve a safe space for an inclusive and democratic public dialogue about our city’s symbols. It also will allow us to focus public safety resources where they are most needed — particularly in our South and West Side communities.”
Lightfoot has said she has no plans to eliminate Columbus Day at the city level, and that she thought it made sense when CPS “essentially celebrated both, Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day.”
Alderman Daniel La Spata, 1st, said he hopes the city will recognize only Indigenous Peoples Day in 2021 and celebrate Italian American heritage — separate from Christopher Columbus.
“As we’re becoming more honest about who he was and more honest about where Italian Americans are now, I don’t feel like his legacy has a usefulness for Italian Americans,” La Spata said. “It would make me so proud to be able to march in a parade dedicated to Italian heritage, but I can’t march in a parade that has Columbus’ name on the banner.”
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