LOS ANGELES — Representatives of Italian American and other groups went to City Hall Oct. 31 to voice their opposition to a proposal to replace Columbus Day with a city holiday celebrating Native Americans instead of European explorer Christopher Columbus.
The City Council is set to take up a Human Relations Commission recommendation to have the city join several others around the country in swapping out Columbus Day for a new holiday known as Indigenous Peoples Day.
The Arts, Parks and River Committee, which took up the proposal, did not come down on either side of the issue. Only two of the five members were in attendance at the hearing, which is not enough to form a decision-making quorum, so the issue was handed over to the City Council without any recommendations.
The idea to establish Indigenous Peoples Day in Los Angeles was proposed last year by the Arts, Parks and River Committee’s chair, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who is of Native American ancestry.
O’Farrell said at the time that while he is personally not a fan of Columbus and the holiday, he wanted to keep options open by looking into whether Indigenous Peoples Day could be celebrated on a different day than Columbus Day.
The plan to do away with Columbus Day has met with resistance from Italian American groups who view the holiday as important to their culture and history.
City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who is Italian American, called the proposal to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day “troubling” and divisive.
He said the holiday gave Italian Americans, who faced discrimination and hardships when they immigrated to the U.S., a way to promote their standing in the country and to celebrate their heritage.
“I support the creation of indigenous peoples day here in Los Angeles … but not at the expense of another cultural heritage,” Buscaino said.
Nicholas Vilicich, a member of the Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus, said the explorer is an important figure for the group.
“To us, Columbus is the one who brought our faith to the new world,” he said.
The proposal to get rid of Columbus Day was supported by several speakers, including Shannon Speed, director of UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center.
“For the first people of this city and indigenous people from many tribes who live in this city, Columbus Day represents the genocide of our people, and every time that day is celebrated, we feel pain,” Speed said.
“It is an additional harm to us.”
O’Farrell also stated his distaste for Columbus Day and said that being able to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in Los Angeles would “acknowledge the truth of our history” and “right” a wrong done to Native Americans.
“Columbus may not have been guilty of genocide, I will give you that, but he was directly responsible for setting it in motion across the Americas, and that is a fact,” he said.
Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day would create only administrative expenses and would likely be less costly than adding a second holiday, according to city officials.
As for adding Indigenous Peoples Day on another date, officials noted that observing a holiday like Columbus Day currently costs the city about $2 million in overtime, or $9.2 million in “soft” costs from reduced productivity.
Human Relations commissioners anticipated that the creation of Indigenous Peoples Day could be seen as a step taken at the expense of another cultural group. They wrote in their report that “the challenge for the city … is to enact a public celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day that will be viewed as enriching and benefiting everyone in the city.”
That includes recognizing the contributions “native communities” such as the Gabrielino and Tongva tribes have made to Los Angeles, as well as those of other Native American groups to the country, while also working “to acknowledge the historical contributions and struggles the Italian American community has experienced, both in Los Angeles and the country at large,” the report said.