In Uncomfortable Twist, Indigenous People and Italians Will Share Holiday

Against the protest of some local Italian Americans, San Francisco supervisors renamed Columbus Day in honor of indigenous people in January.

The 148th annual San Francisco Italian Heritage Parade (S.F. Examiner file photo)

Four months after Columbus Day was renamed in honor of Native Americans, San Francisco supervisors voted to also name the same day in honor of Italian Americans.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 in favor of the naming the second Monday of October ‘Italian American Heritage Day.” After supervisors voted to rename the day ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’ in January, some local Italian Americans said they found the move divisive.

They even began gathering signatures to undo the Supervisor Malia Cohen’s ordinance through a November ballot measure. But Italian American Supervisor Catherine Stefani stepped in with a compromise: let indigenous people and Italian Americans celebrate on the same day.

“It is my hope that on this day, the city and county of San Francisco can celebrate the rich diversity and contributions of both its indigenous and immigrant communities,” Stefani said when introducing the ordinance, the San Francisco Examiner reports.

But the renaming has been occurring nationwide for a good reason. A 2007 city report from the Human Rights Commission called the naming of a holiday after Christopher Columbus — the Italian explorer whose 1492 arrival spurred the deaths of many Native Americans — “an insulting gesture.”

“When I voted to change the second Monday of the month to indigenous peoples I did that because to me that particular date is inextricably linked with the arrival of Columbus to this land and centuries of pain that our country has inflicted on indigenous people,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who cast the lone opposing vote on Tuesday.

Even while the second Monday of October was named after Columbus, Alcatraz Island hosted an annual Indigenous Peoples Day Sunrise gathering to honor ancestors and celebrate Native American resistance. 

Without Columbus Day, local Italian Americans have several avenues to rightfully celebrate their own heritage: June is home to the North Beach Festival, the Festa Coloniale Italiana is in August and an Italian Heritage Parade is in October.

There are 364 other days in the year — why place the celebration on a hard-fought holiday for one of our most marginalized groups?

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