DOWNTOWN — Columbus Day is officially over at Chicago Public Schools.
Instead, students will now get the day off to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday of every October. The Board of Education approved the change during a Wednesday meeting after several CPS parents, themselves Italian Americans, spoke in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.
The change has already been made on CPS’ online calendar, where the holiday was listed as Indigenous Peoples Day for October 2019.
Columbus Day has long been used to celebrate the legacy of Christopher Columbus, who claimed to have discovered America on Oct. 12, 1492 — even though it was already populated. The holiday is observed by school districts, governments, banks and more throughout the United States.
But Columbus and his namesake holiday have long been controversial, and activists for the indigenous community have called for an end to Columbus Day. Critics have noted Columbus didn’t “discover” America and his actions led to mass genocide and crimes, including rape and torture, against indigenous people.
Previously in Chicago, people have called for Columbus Drive to be renamed, repeatedly vandalized a statue of Columbus and pushed for the city as a whole to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day.
The push to scrap Columbus Day has been welcomed by some Italian Americans — but not all.
In a statement to Block Club from the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, group president Sergio Giangrande called the CPS decision “a slap in the face of the more than 500-thousand Italian Americans in Chicago.”
“The historical legacy of any individual is and should be subject to debate,” Giangrande said. “That debate should not give license to the wholesale removal of a symbol indemnity that was a beacon of hope for millions of maligned Italians who helped create the beauty of this country.”
Parents who spoke before the school board Wednesday night said that understood why some Italian Americans would be upset by the change, but suggested they lobby cities and states to honor the many Italian Americans more deserving of a holiday.
“I empathize with the objection to rename Columbus Day that [is] rooted in wanting to celebrate our heritage,” one CPS parent told the board. “However, we have so many opportunities to celebrate Italian Americans who represent core Chicagoan values.”