CHICAGO (CBS) — There is a growing movement to have Columbus Day, a federal holiday, replaced with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Chicago Public Schools have replaced the day on its calendar, and now one state lawmaker wants it removed from the state calendar permanently.
State Rep. Delia Ramirez plans on reintroducing her bill in January. She took the time to talk about the move on Columbus Day. She believes the bill has momentum, but opponents in the Italian American community, who held a rally Monday morning, say they want to be a part of the conversation.
Outcry led to action this summer when statues of Christopher Columbus were taken down in Chicago as a reaction to protesters who believe the Spanish explorer symbolizes oppression and the genocide of indigenous people. Ramirez said gestures like that don’t go far enough.
“It removes Columbus Day as a holiday and replaces it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez first introduced the bill in January, but the pandemic-related shortened spring legislative session kept it from a vote. She will introduce it again in January.
Ramierz, a Guatemalan American, points to months of protests and talks about racial equity and justice that stemmed from the death of George Floyd as indications the time is now to make this change.
“We feel that our holiday, our federal holiday, was not respected, and our organizations, and our culture, our ethnic group, is not respected,” said Ron Onesti, who wants to save Columbus Day.
Some members of the Italian American community feel their heritage and contributions would be dismissed if the holiday is changed.
“We were not asked to the table regarding statues, regarding the Chicago Public Schools system taking it away. We just want to be part of the conversation,” Onesti said.
“There are so many Italian Americans that have contributed so much to this country. Christopher Columbus reminds us of slavery, of genocide, of robbing people’s lands, and so to me to make Italian American culture a synonym to Christopher Columbus, I don’t think is correct,” Ramirez said.
In 2017 a bill passed that created Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a separate, recognized day in Illinois, independent of Columbus Day. Ramirez said it is not a holiday, and many indigenous groups felt it was simply a way to silence them.