Alderman Says ‘Army of Italians’ To Protest Switch From Columbus To Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Columbus Day
Flag bearers march past a group supporting native American causes during the annual Columbus Day parade in Chicago in 2002. Starting this October, Chicago Public Schools will celebrate Indigenous People's Day rather than Columbus Day. Charles Bennett / AP
Columbus Day
Flag bearers march past a group supporting native American causes during the annual Columbus Day parade in Chicago in 2002. Starting this October, Chicago Public Schools will celebrate Indigenous People's Day rather than Columbus Day. Charles Bennett / AP

Alderman Says ‘Army of Italians’ To Protest Switch From Columbus To Indigenous Peoples’ Day

A Chicago alderman is readying a challenge to a decision by the Chicago Board of Education to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Board members voted 5-to-2 to make the change at their meeting Wednesday. It was a surprise move with member Elizabeth Todd-Breland proposing amending the school district calendar. The holiday is a day off on the second Monday in October.

“I believe in the transformative potential of culturally responsive education,” said Todd-Breland, a history professor. “In CPS, more than 80 percent of our students are the descendants of survivors of European settler colonialism. I think it is important to all our school communities and I think it is the right thing to do now.”

But Ald. Nick Sposato (38th Ward) said he felt ambushed by the change. He said it is wrong to take away the day when Italian Americans and their contributions are honored.

“Pick your own damn day, pick any day you want, just don’t pick it for Columbus Day,” he says rhetorically to the backers of the switch to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. “The Polish wouldn’t want Casimir Pulaski Day to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the Irish wouldn’t want St. Patrick’s day to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the blacks wouldn’t want Martin Luther King Day to be it.”

Sposato said he is organizing with Italian-American leaders and promises to bring an “army of Italians” to the March Board of Education meeting.

Sposato also has been responsible for fighting against a similar movement to change the holiday for Chicago.

While he knew activists had been pushing for the Board of Education change, he said he had no idea a decision was imminent. He said people should also acknowledge Columbus’ contributions.

“No one knows if he was the guy to discover America, but he was the first person to tell people that America was there,” he said. “It is basically our day. Our Italian-American Day.”

For more than a year, activists, scholars and parents had been urging the board to make the change. They moved closer to it last year by calling the day Indigenous Peoples’ Day/Columbus Day.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.