We are stronger together than apart. There is no greater testament to that fact than the multiethnic coalition that has rallied to reverse the Chicago Board of Education’s decision to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The removal of Columbus Day is not just about Italian Americans.
On the evening of Feb. 26, while most of us were welcoming home our children from school or sharing dinner with family or friends, the Chicago Board of Education usurped Columbus Day. Poof. It was gone faster than your Nonno could pinch your cheek and let go. And why? Because the community was never informed of the matter and was therefore unable to raise its voice in protest.
As word seeped out in the media the next day, jaws dropped, heads spun and departed loved ones rolled over in their graves.
Sergio Giangrande, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, declared in a statement that, “This is a slap in the face of the more than 500,000 Italian Americans in Chicago and the 135 million Italians worldwide.”
For Italian Americans, who endured horrific discrimination and continue to be the subject of degrading stereotypes in popular culture, Christopher Columbus is a symbol of resilience. And his significance extends light-years beyond that.
In a recent editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times, Pasquale Gianni wrote, “Yes, Columbus did not ‘discover’ America, but he led the first documented voyages to the New World, laying the foundation for mass waves of immigration from Europe to this sweet land of liberty for the ensuing centuries. In doing so, Columbus set in motion the trajectory of history as we know it by inextricably linking two worlds together. We have great reason to celebrate this and all of those who followed in Columbus’ bravery and footsteps by taking a giant leap to an unknown world in search of something new.”
In the wake of the CBE’s surprise attack on this cherished icon, the JCCIA reached out for support across the metropolitan area and state. Within days, numerous elected officials, along with leaders of the Jewish, Irish, Hispanic, African American, Filipino and Polish communities, joined the JCCIA in calling for the preservation of Columbus Day and the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ on the last Monday of September, the day designated for that purpose by a 2017 state law.
On Feb. 28, not only did Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot publicly proclaim her support for Columbus Day, she called Giangrande to assure him this would never happen at the city level.
On March 5, the coalition held a press conference to demand the CBE rescind its decision to remove Columbus Day from its calendar because the Board violated Illinois state schools code (105 ILCS 5/24-2), Sec. 24-2, Par. (a)(b)(1)(2). In eliminating the holiday, the board failed to “…first holds a public hearing about the proposal. The entity shall provide notice preceding the public hearing to both educators and parents.” There is no notice on the Feb. 26, 2020, CBE Agenda of a Columbus Day rescission discussion. Accordingly, the CBE vote was both procedurally and legally wrong.
At the news conference, 15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez eloquently summarized the actions of the coalition, asking, “If they take away Columbus Day, what is next?”
In addition to reaching out to every federal, state and local elected official deemed essential to the issue, the coalition is now asking the Illinois attorney general to defend the state against the illegal parliamentary procedures of the board in eliminating a holiday recognized by the state of Illinois.
While our efforts are focused right now on the Chicago Board of Education, we are attacking this problem from every possible angle. This is not just about Columbus Day. It’s about every ethnic holiday. We are in the fight of our lives, and we won’t stop until ALL our voices are heard.
If you would like to join our coalition, please send an email to email@example.com. Your partnership is appreciated!
The above appears in the May 2020 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.