By Barbara Ann Zippi
The Italian community celebrates National Republic Day on June 2. That’s when Italians voted to abolish the monarchy in 1946 so their country could become a republic. It’s a holiday very similar to American Independence Day.
Here in the United States and worldwide, June starts the season of Italian festivals and the perfect time to teach and educate Italian-American generations of all ages on their Italian roots and ancestry and on the importance of preserving our heritage, culture and traditions.
Part of preserving is protecting and slowly there is erupting a movement to abolish Columbus Day, a holiday near and dear to Italian Americans. It’s a day we celebrate with pride. But as generations move further from the original immigrant Italian ancestors, we tend to forget the adversity they experienced as immigrants when they came to the new land. For many of us reading this, it’s too difficult to remember because it happened to the generation we are or know.
The calendar holds other cultural, heritage and religious holidays. They include Irish celebrating St. Patrick’s Day; Mexicans, Cinco de Mayo; French traditions are the base of Mardi Gras; Germans remember with Octoberfest; African Americans have Kwanzaa and Martin Luther King Jr. Day; and the list continues with Indians, Swedish, Greeks and more.
As a nation, we celebrate Thanksgiving to honor the first settlers, the Indians and Pilgrims, and Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. American Indian communities across the country have pushed for local celebrations of Indigenous Peoples Day, rather than Columbus Day.
As Italian Americans, we have many local and regional organizations and on a national level, the National Italian American Foundation in Washington, D.C. Amazingly among 50 states, only New Jersey and Delaware have
a Commission on Italian Heritage and Culture appointed by the governor. Budgets aside, establishing State
Commissions is vital to protecting our heritage.
Five states — New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania and Florida — are classified with over 1 million Italians Americans. New Jersey is the only one of those states with a commission. And, with fewer than 250,000 Italian Americans, the State of Delaware has a commission too.
As of October 8, 2015, according to uncut.com in an article by Dylan Sevett, eight cities abolished Columbus Day. They include Albuquerque, N.M.; Lawrence, Kan.; Portland, Ore.; St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn.; Bexar County and San Antonio, Texas; Anadarko, Okla.; Olympia and Seattle, Wash.; Alpena, Mich., and Oklahoma City.
On a state level, according to an article on npr.org by Lakshmi Gandhi, “Three states with significant native populations — Hawaii, Alaska and South Dakota — do not observe the day at all. In 1990, South Dakota decided to celebrate ‘Native American Day’ instead. In Hawaii, the state choses to celebrate ‘Discoverers’ Day’ and its Polynesian community on the second Monday of October. Alaska is said not to celebrate the day because it falls too close to Alaska Day (Oct. 18). And the city of Berkeley, Calif., declared in 1992 that it would be celebrating ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’ on the same day the rest of the country would be celebrating Columbus.”
And on October 14, 2015, The Huffington Post article by Tyler Kingkade included a quote from school officials stating; “Today, more Native American students have graduated from Dartmouth than from all other Ivy League universities combined.”
No wonder people are challenging Columbus Day and winning support to change it to Indigenous Peoples Day. In the American Midwest and West, where the Italian populations are scarce and the American Indian population is huge, Oregon and Minnesota’s Italian American population is about 111,000 and others mentioned don’t reach 100,000. None of the comments researched reference Italians or Italian Americans.
As Sinatra says, “start spreading the news.” Visit and share our culture at schools, scouting groups, community events. Educating all generations is vital to Italian Americans sustaining their heritage, culture and traditions. Honor the roots of our Italian ancestors who forged onto a new land and were once the unwelcome immigrant.
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