For all of his accolades in the 13th Century, Christopher Columbus has had rough seas here in the 21st Century, as indigenous groups and many in the general public have begun to call for a change to the holiday that tends to skew towards highlighting the Italian culture more than the explorer himself.
Add Mayor Carlo DeMaria to the list of defenders of the holiday, which took place on Monday, Oct. 8.
In a point/counterpoint Globe piece last week, Mayor DeMaria represented the pro-Columbus side of things, arguing that the holiday and Columbus was a point of pride for him going back to his days in elementary school.
“When I was in grade school, I learned that Christopher Columbus was an Italian sailor who discovered America,” he wrote. “For Italians, this has always a matter of pride. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937 chose the name of a well-respected Italian American in our history, and established Columbus Day as a national holiday through an act of Congress…And across America, Columbus Day is when those of us who are of Italian ancestry celebrate our heritage.”
DeMaria said that the movement to re-name the holiday is understandable, but misdirected. He said it is true that Columbus and his men were known to enslave and slaughter Native Americans, and it should not be in question that they are inherently wrong and terrible. That said, DeMaria said we shouldn’t evaluate people of yesterday under today’s lenses. He urged everyone to understand that the day is a celebration for Italians, who faced discrimination in the 1800s in American and united behind the pride of Columbus.
He said renaming the day would effectively be a slap in the face to so many great Italians who have helped build the United States.
“And while I understand and support the desire to recognize indigenous peoples, it should be done on a different date,” he wrote. “When I was young, a first-generation Italian-American, my parents spoke no English and received no governmental assistance. However, this country enabled them to work and raise a family. They taught my brother and me to speak only English, love our country, and help and respect all people. Let’s stop going back over 500 years and judging someone by today’s standards. I hope we can all put the past behind and move forward.”