The Los Angeles City Council has approved a motion to replace Columbus Day—traditionally celebrated on the second Monday of every October—with Indigenous Peoples Day. The city joins a growing list of major cities to make the switch: In 2016, Phoenix changed the name and joined Portland, Seattle, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, and Denver.
It’s no secret that the validity of Columbus Day has been controversial for decades, but it wasn’t until recent years that debate resulted in change.
Though Columbus sailed the ocean blue on four separate trips beginning in 1492, he never reached North America. Rather, he landed on various Caribbean islands that are now the Bahamas, as well as the island later called Hispaniola (home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti). His time on these islands is noted for the decimation of native populations, among other atrocities, according to historians. Such revelations led to even more concern over a federal U.S. holiday in his honor.
The first Columbus Day celebration in the U.S. occurred in New York in 1792 as a means for honoring Italian-American heritage, after a group called the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization consisting largely of Italian Americans, fought for the creation of the holiday.
The recent vote by the L.A. City Council ensures that Indigenous Peoples Day will serve as an official city holiday by the 2019 calendar year. While then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger nixed Columbus Day as a state holiday in 2009, it is still observed as a legal city holiday, which allows for city workers to receive paid time off. The change to Indigenous Peoples Day means that workers will be granted the same benefit.
“We should question why we as Americans continue to celebrate him without knowing the true history of his legacy, and why a holiday was created in the first place. He never landed in the USA,” Leo Killsback, PhD, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and assistant professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University, told CNN in 2016.
At L.A.’s recent city council meeting, Italian-Americans fought to preserve the annual commemoration of Christopher Columbus, who was born in Genoa. Many were in support of Indigenous Peoples Day, but not at the expense of Columbus Day, the L.A. Times reports.
“On behalf of the Italian community, we want to celebrate with you,” said Ann Potenza, president of Federated Italo-Americans of Southern California. “We just don’t want it to be at the expense of Columbus Day.”
Chrissie Castro, vice chairwoman of the Los Angeles City-County Native American Indian Commission, vehemently disagreed, arguing that city lawmakers needed to “dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of genocide of indigenous peoples,” according to the L.A. Times.
“To make us celebrate on any other day would be a further injustice,” Castro said.
Ultimately, the council voted 14-1 to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. “I teach my son to apologize and to know when to make amends,” said councilman Mike Bonin, who voted in favor of swapping the holidays, LAist reports. “And replacing [Columbus Day] is a small step towards apologizing and making amends.”