The Immigrant’s Holiday
Subtitle: The National Holiday Which Shall not be Named
I am speaking, of course, of Columbus Day, which theoretically commemorates the October 12, 1492 arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas.
In my state, local schools do not observe this holiday–no day off for children. What content they cover in the classrooms, I do not know. Columbus Day has fallen out of favor.
As the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, that saddens me. No less than The Sopranos, that amazingly well-written series, had an episode addressing this angst.
And yet, I understand the objections and the revisionism. This is definitely not the same world as 1492 when European conquistadores brutalized indigenous people, or the same world as 1934, the year when the traditional observance of Columbus’ arrival was codified into a national holiday. (Actually, with the legacies of Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot, it’s hard to imagine a more brutal century than the last.)
But. . .in my mind, I link Columbus Day, the holiday, with something other than brutality, exploitation and genocide. In my mind, it’s a holiday that celebrates the great wave of early nineteenth century immigration of primarily the poor, “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Impoverished and starving in their home countries, immigrants then, like immigrants now, embraced the romance of the new world, the chance to work, worship, and speak freely.
The observance of Columbus Day started in colonial times, but it became an official holiday because Irish and Italian immigrants claimed it as their own. It became for them a badge of pride and defiance against the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant bigotry so prevalent in the United States.
How ironic that a holiday created to squash bigotry is seen as the clearest evidence of same!