The fight of our lives

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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 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.


About Lissa Druss

Lissa Druss is founder and CEO of Strategia Consulting, a government relations and business relations and crisis communication firm. She is a regular contributor on television and radio stations, offering perspective on crisis events and public affairs issues. She spent 21 years as a television journalist and is a nine-time Emmy award winner. She holds the title of Cavaliere dell’ Ordine della Stella d’Italia; serves on the boards of Milan-Chicago Sister Cities International, the Get Growing Foundation and the Italian American Human Relations Foundation, and is chairman of the Jarrett Payton Foundation. She works with the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii and the JCCIA, and is a member of the National Italian American Foundation.

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One comment

  1. Catherine Scalise

    I am a proud American of Italian decent.
    I am a social studies teacher.
    I am honored to be a CPS educator.
    I am a student of Italian American History.
    I am outraged over CPS taking away Columbus Day!
    I am, as many are, viewing this ignorant decision to be divisive as well as contradictory to an educational environment’s function.
    I am an educator who believes in modeling the celebration all cultures.
    I am aware that Columbus is credited with discovering America.
    I am also cognizant of Columbus as a representation of Italian American contributions.
    I am in accord with the words of Jesse Jackson, “I am somebody.”
    I am somebody is a reflection that all people have value and should not be disregarded, misrepresented, or replaced.
    I am mindful that many view Columbus as a representation of oppression of Native American, nevertheless
    The English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese, etc. who colonized the Americas are responsible for domination of Native cultures Columbus and the Italian community should not be scapegoats for this tragic history.
    We celebrate the contributions of so many other ethnic group. Why not the Italian-American community on Columbus Day.
    I am a believer that America is a where all cultures should be part of reflection, celebration and instruction.
    There is no need to change Columbus Day since there is already an established days for Indigenous People.
    I am an advocate for acknowledging Indigenous People’s Day, celebrated on the fourth Friday of September in the USA and on Aug. 9 around the world.
    Native Americans have made tremendous contributions to our culture: a deep respect for Mother Earth, honoring children as the future, adobe, agricultural methods, compulsory education, sign language, embalming, anesthetics as well as canoes, chaps, chewing gum, chilies, corn, gourds, cotton, hammocks, hocky, igloos, jerky, lacrosse, lassoes, maple syrup, moccasins, parkas, peanut butter, tomahawks, tomatoes … The list goes on and on and even includes the name of our fair city, Chicago.
    The Chicago Public Schools would far better serve their children to include these important contributions in its curriculum instead of blotting out the contributions of Italians and Italian Americans.
    I am a believer in what I heard Mayor Lightfoot expressed: that we should have inclusion; not subtraction.
    And Italians and Italian Americans have given so much to art, music, cuisine, fashion, literature, design, science, sports … the list goes on and on and on and even includes the name of our fair country, America.
    We have more in common with Native Americans than that which divides us. Let work together for the benefit of all.
    I’d like to end with the words of Angelo R. Bianchi, which inspired me to write this:
    I am an Italian-American.
    My roots are deep in an ancient soil, drenched by the Mediterranean sun, & watered by pure streams from snowcapped mountains.
    I am enriched by thousands of years of culture.
    My hands are those of the mason, the artist, the man of the soil.
    My thoughts have been recorded in the annals of Rome, the poetry of Virgil, the creations of Dante, and the philosophy of Benedetto Croce.
    I am an Italian-American, and from my ancient world, I first spanned the seas to the New World. I am Cristoforo Colombo.
    I am Giovanni Caboto, known in American history as John Cabot, discoverer of the mainland of North America.
    I am Amerigo Vespucci, who gave my name to the New World, America.
    First to sail on the Great Lakes in 1679, founder of the territory that became the state of Illinois, colonizer of Louisiana and Arkansas, I am Enrico Tonti.
    I am Filippo Mazzei, friend of Thomas Jefferson, and my thesis on the equality of man was written into the Bill of Rights.
    I am William Paca, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
    I am an Italian-American. I financed the Northwest Expedition of George Rogers Clark and accompanied him through the lands that would become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. I am Colonel Francesco Vigo.
    I mapped the Pacific from Mexico to Alaska and to the Philippines. I am Alessandro Malaspina.
    I am Giancomo Beltrami, discoverer of the sources of the Mississippi River in 1823.
    I created the cupola of the United States Capital. They called me the Michelangelo of America. I am Constantino Brumidi.
    In 1904, I founded, in San Francisco, the Bank of Italy, which is now known as the Bank of America; the largest financial institution in the world. I am A.P. Giannini.
    I am Enrico Fermi, father of nuclear science in America.
    First enlisted man to win the Medal of Honor in World War II, I am John Basilone of New Jersey.
    I am an Italian-American. I am the million strong who served in America’s armies and the tens of thousands whose names are enshrined in military cemeteries from Guadalcanal to the Rhine.
    I am the steelmaker in Pittsburgh, the grower in the Imperial Valley of California, the textile designer in Manhattan, the movie maker in Hollywood, the homemaker and the breadwinner in 10,000 communities across the United States.
    I am an American without stint or reservation, loving this land as only one who understands history, its agonies, & its triumphs can love it & serve it.
    I will not be told that my contribution is any less nor my role not as worthy as that of any other American.
    I will stand in support of this nation’s freedom and promise against all foes.
    My heritage has dedicated me to this nation.
    I am proud of my full heritage and I shall remain worthy of it.
    I am an Italian-American.

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