The New York City Department of Education has changed the “Columbus Day” holiday on the 2021-2022 school calendar to “Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day,” angering some Republican lawmakers.
The shift comes amid a movement by some around the country to change the Columbus Day holiday to a celebration of indigenous people, due to the Italian explorer’s brutal treatment of Native Americans. Supporters of the change believe that America should undergo a reckoning with its past mistreatment of non-white people. But Columbus Day is a particular source of pride for, and vigorously defended by, many Italian-Americans.
An email sent to Education reporters, parents and schools with the upcoming school calendar Tuesday morning said the new holiday would be called “Indigenous People’s Day.”
Republican lawmakers expressed anger over the move.
In a statement Tuesday, Councilmen Joe Borelli and Steve Matteo, and Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, all Republicans of Staten Island, blasted the move and said the name was changed “without any public announcement or fanfare for the 2021-2022 school calendar for parents on the DOE website.”
“There is nothing wrong with celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but doing so at the expense of a day that celebrates Italian American culture and history is downright insulting,” said Borelli. “Doing it under the radar only adds to the cowardice now regularly on display by the woke left.”
Malliotakis called the move “another blatant attempt by City Hall to rewrite history while dishonoring so many of our citizens who are proud Italian Americans and cancel Christopher Columbus, who embodies the immigrant experience and discovery,” and Matteo said he supports “a conversation about the best way to honor and recognize Indigenous People,” but that by “doing it this way, the DOE is only creating more division amongst New Yorkers.”
In a statement to Hamodia, DOE spokeswoman Danielle Filson said, “Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day will celebrate the contributions and legacies of Italian Americans and recognize that Native people are the first inhabitants of the land that became our country. By including these holidays on our calendar we are honoring the past, present, and future contributions of Indigenous communities and Italian Americans.”
While only the DOE, and not City Hall, made the announcement, city spokespersons who spoke with Hamodia disputed the Republicans’ assertions that the change was made secretly.
Filson said that while Mayor Bill de Blasio did not hold his usual weekday press briefing Tuesday, Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter spoke with a reporter for NY1 about the change, and noted that notifications were sent to education beat reporters, schools and parents.
And later Tuesday afternoon, the name of the new holiday was updated to “Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day.”
But adding “Italian Heritage” to the holiday not appease Borelli, who in a phone conversation with Hamodia Tuesday evening called it “a desperate attempt to make up for an insulting change which they didn’t even have the guts to do in public.”
“All that happened,” said the Councilman, “was they got caught insulting the Italian-American community and look like fools, and are trying to change it after the fact.”
In keeping with the racial reckoning, the new school calendar will also for the first time close schools for Juneteenth holiday, a celebration of the end of slavery after the Civil War.
The national movement to eradicate Columbus Day has also extended to removal of statues of the explorer. Some have called for a statue of Columbus to be taken down from Columbus Circle in Manhattan, but in 2018 a commission created to examine questionable statues in New York City recommended against its removal, and the statue remains.
Updated Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 8:33 pm .