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Columbus Day is Canceled

Philadelphia’s Democratic mayor Jim Kenney signed an executive order putting an end to Columbus Day in his city earlier this week. The long-celebrated holiday will be replaced instead with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Columbus Day has been celebrated around the world unofficially since the 18th century, and in an official capacity in the United States since 1937. The second Monday of October will no longer be a celebration of Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. Instead, the city of Philadelphia will now take the day to look back on and celebrate the Native Americans, or Indigenous People, who first inhabited the land. Philadelphia joins major cities including Denver, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, as well as a few states (Alaska, Hawaii, and Oregon) in making this change.

The news was met with frustration in Philadelphia.

The 1492 Society hosts an annual parade in honor of Columbus and his great accomplishments. Their secretary, Jody Della Barba, was particularly dismayed at the change. She cited the shift as an attack not only on America but also on Catholics, as Columbus was an Italian Catholic and brought the religion to the Americas. The religious outcry was not the only reason people felt attacked by the switch, it was racially as well.

Similarly, chairman of the parade committee, Mark Squilla considers the holiday swap a “personal affront” on Italian-Americans. Squilla cited the history of the holiday and its importance to Italian-Americans, saying it helped ease tensions when Italian immigrants were targets of lynch mobs and murderers. The Columbus Day holiday at its inception also helped diplomatic relations with Italy and should stay as a symbol of that friendship.

Squilla even went as far as asking Kenney to rescind his order, saying he should “work with Italian Americans and Indigenous people to come up with a solution that’s not removing a holiday for Italian Americans and then replacing it with Indigenous Day. ” The request did not affect Mayor Kenney’s decision and the day has been officially changed.

This is not the first time Italians have been “canceled” in Philadelphia, where roughly 120,000 Americans identify with their Italian heritage. A statue of Christopher Columbus was recently approved for construction, green-lit by the city’s Art Commission but then it was put on hold due to legal challenge. Similarly, a statue of a former mayor and police commissioner, Italian Frank Rizzo, was removed from the Municipal Services Building last year making Italian Americans feel ever more ignored and under-appreciated.

Possibly contributing to the unrest in the Italian community may be the fact that Juneteenth was formally indoctrinated as a holiday in Philadelphia last year. Also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day, or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19th and is the anniversary of the day the last slaves were freed from the final Confederate stronghold in Texas.

This change was also enacted via one of Kenney’s executive orders demonstrating that he has the power to create new holidays and by choosing not to exercise that power in this situation he is enabling an attack on Italians and Catholics.


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