For most Americans, the second Monday of every October is just another long weekend. America observes the federal holiday of Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer responsible for several voyages across the Atlantic. Many groups, including the large population of Italian-Americans in Rhode Island, choose to celebrate Columbus as a symbol of pride, and of what Italian immigrants risked in pursuit of a better life.
Others have a different perspective. Many people of Indigenous descent believe Columbus is a symbol of white supremacy – the beginning of genocide and cruelty for many across North America. On Monday, many will choose to celebrate traditions, and others will use it as a day to mourn. From many perspectives, Columbus Day is an evolving holiday.
“It’s the acknowledgment of the beginning of genoicde, ” said Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro, part of the international Anishinabeg Nation, Wa pili Clan under Chief NightHawk Flying. “It’s not [because] he’s Italian; he’s a European white man. When we use the term European white man, we aren’t trying to crap all over anyone who’s white or anyone who has white skin, we usually are referring to Europeans in general,” she said.
Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day sometimes involves the defacing of Columbus statues across the U.S. “We don’t have a voice in a lot of places,” said Rising Dawn. “It gives us [a] voice in a way too.” When asked if both Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day could be celebrated simultaneously, she responded, “Absolutely. Although I believe there’s gonna be a huge bias. You’re gonna have people who see both sides. You can’t get anywhere in life if you’re not at least open to seeing and hearing other perspectives. I think it’s important to learn about Columbus because he had a lot to do with the whitewashing of Native people.”
On the federal holiday, many Indigenous Americans will do what our nation does best – use its freedom of speech and mourn the loss of culture and ancestors.
Many Italians, of course, have another point of view.
“Italian-Americans, when they first came here, were persecuted just like anybody else,” said Rick Simone of the Federal Hill Commerce Association, adding that Columbus became the symbol of Italian pride dating to 1792 in New York City. “It was to honor the Italians that came here and their traditions,” Simone said. Italian-Americans observe the day to celebrate their history and accomplishments. Asked if both days could be celebrated simultaneously he responded, “Absolutely. I wouldn’t see any reason why it couldn’t be done that way,” he said. There’s a bottom line with Simone: respect. “We respect everyone’s right to have an opinion, and everyone’s right to have a thought about it, and we just ask that they respect ours as well. We recognize certain things [other cultures] feel for the reasons they do.” On Historic Federal Hill, the day is about celebrating. “For us being a very Italian district we still consider ourselves the little Italy of Rhode Island, not just Providence. It’s a tradition of things we want to carry out.”
The Federal Hill Commerce Association is celebrating its 30th annual Columbus Day Festival on Historic Federal Hill from October 7-10, from Dean Street to Sutton Street along Atwells Ave.
Meanwhile, if you are interested in attending a celebration of justice and community, PRONK 2022 is holding a festival of music and art centered around Black and Indigenous culture. The event will be held Monday October 10 at Dexter Park in Providence from 11 am to 5 pm.