he Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to eliminate Columbus Day from the city calendar, siding with activists who viewed the explorer as a symbol of genocide for native peoples.
Over the objections of Italian American civic groups, the council made the second Monday in October a day in L.A. to commemorate “indigenous, aboriginal and native people.” The day will remain a paid holiday for city employees.
Appearing before city lawmakers, Italian Americans voiced anguish over the proposal, saying it would erase part of their heritage. Some said they supported Indigenous Peoples Day but wanted it to be held at a different time.
“On behalf of the Italian community, we want to celebrate with you,” said Ann Potenza, president of Federated Italo-Americans of Southern California, speaking in a room packed with Native American activists. “We just don’t want it to be at the expense of Columbus Day.”
That idea was unacceptable to Chrissie Castro, vice chairwoman of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission. She argued that city lawmakers needed to “dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of genocide of indigenous peoples.”
“To make us celebrate on any other day would be a further injustice,” she told the council.
Wednesday’s debate had been driven by two men with different visions of how to replace Columbus Day. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the Wyandotte Nation tribe in Oklahoma, pushed for Indigenous Peoples Day, arguing such a move would provide “restorative justice.”
Councilman Joe Buscaino, a first-generation Italian American raised in San Pedro, had sought to replace Columbus Day with a different name, one that celebrates “all of the diverse cultures in the city.”
Buscaino said many had forgotten the prejudice faced by Italian Americans in the United States — and asked his colleagues not to “cure one offense with another.”
“All of our individual cultures matter,” said Buscaino, who represents neighborhoods stretching from Watts to San Pedro.
Buscaino and three of his colleagues — Gil Cedillo, David Ryu and Mitchell Englander — pushed an alternative proposal that would move Indigenous Peoples Day to Aug. 9, a day when native peoples are celebrated by the United Nations. The council rejected that proposal.
Councilman Mike Bonin, the great grandson of Italian immigrants, said he felt genuinely pained at having to disagree with Buscaino. But he argued that Columbus Day actually diminished the accomplishments of his ancestors and other Italian Americans.
“This gesture, of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, is a very small step in apologizing and in making amends,” said Bonin, who represents coastal neighborhoods from Westchester to Pacific Palisades.
The council’s vote comes at a time of heated debate over the nation’s holidays and historical monuments.
Activists have been pushing for the removal of statues honoring military leaders who served the Confederacy. Two weeks ago, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a 90-day review of “all symbols of hate” on city property.
Several U.S. cities — including Phoenix, Seattle, Albuquerque, Denver and Portland, Ore. — have already replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Los Angeles has been discussing the idea since 2015.
O’Farrell, who represents an Echo Park-to-Hollywood district, said the plan for Indigenous Peoples Day also called for Oct. 12 — the date of Columbus’ arrival in 1492 — to be set aside as Italian American Heritage Day at City Hall. That day would not be a day off for paid employees.
Replacing Columbus Day, O’Farrell said, would right a “historical wrong.”
“We are not creating a racial conflict,” he said. “We are ending one.”