Recent comments and letters have again criticized that the School Committee is considering removing mention of Columbus from the school calendar. They speak of the discriminatory and horrendous acts historically perpetuated against Italian Americans, including those actions that served as the catalyst for the creation of the current Columbus Day holiday. They also speak, validly, with pride of their heritage, persistence, and survival in the face of such adversity. This historical and unfair mistreatment of a population is, sadly, a recurring theme in American society. For certain populations, however, the level and scale of violence and discrimination committed against them persisted for generations and, for some, for centuries commencing when European explorers and settlers moved onto land already inhabited by native populations. Unfortunately, many history books tend to represent these early interactions through rose-colored lenses. They romanticize an era of European-centric exploration and discovery, as epitomized by Columbus, and of people fleeing religious and other persecution or even starvation in their homelands; or of people simply seeking better lives if not for themselves then for their children in a “new” world ripe with resources and possibilities. But we do ourselves, our children, and our neighbors a disservice if we do not even acknowledge that atrocities were committed during this period of exploration and discovery that still have ramifications for certain populations to this day.
Historical accounts of Columbus’ voyages and activities are not without their own controversies and criticisms, but the fact remains that historical accounts exist of atrocities that he or his men committed. Those accounts are bolstered by the European value systems and perceptions of the period. And what of the indigenous populations of the time? They had no voice, or their voices were effectively silenced. Nowadays, however, and for the past several decades, these voices have begun to be heard, not only in America, but across the world. For Native American indigenous populations and many others, notwithstanding the atrocities that Columbus likely committed, Columbus is the catalyst and the symbol of the horrors and sorrows that followed.
Calls to remove Columbus Day from the school calendar are not intended to minimize the Italian American experience by any means. Rather, it is meant to encourage us to consider all voices and perspectives and in thinking about America’s complex history. In fact, Wilmington GUIDEs welcomes celebration of peoples’ and our neighbors’ heritages. We urge compassion and understanding of the pain felt by others through the misplaced celebration of this flawed individual and urge the School Committee to seek an alternative that considers the different voices and perspectives raised.
Wilmington GUIDEs (Growing Understanding of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity)
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