Photo by Chris Devers:Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone dressed up in his annual Halloween costume as Christopher Columbus that he has used for years in Somerville.
By William Tauro
Statement from Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone
This year on Monday, October 8, the City of Somerville will observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We will join–among many others–Alaska, Vermont, Durango, Colo., and Traverse City, Mich., in doing the right thing. It’s been an issue we’ve given careful consideration, and many inside and outside our city have made compelling arguments for this change.
The arc of history bends not only toward justice but toward reason. Columbus Day is a relic of an outdated and oversimplified version of history. This is not to say that Columbus has no place in history. It does not deny his skills or courage as a mariner. Nor does it weaken the important role his legacy has played in our national identity. But during the period when Columbus was elevated to an American symbol of discovery, the full story was less widely known.
More of us know now that even during his life Columbus was stripped of his governorship of the Indies due to brutality, tyranny, and incompetence. He participated in the early stages of what became a genocide. On the island of Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) where Columbus established his first colony, chroniclers of that era detail slavery, torture, rape, and dismemberment. Observance of that loss and respect for the people who suffered it is not a lot to ask from those of us whose families migrated here in its wake.
Since Columbus Day was first established in 1934, our understanding of history and how history is taught have changed. Students now learn both about the colonization of the Americas and the atrocities carried out against Indigenous people. Over the past year students from the East Somerville Community School wrote letters urging the City to adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day. One asked,
“Why would we want to commemorate someone who slaughtered innocent people?” It’s a fair question and the inescapable answer is that we shouldn’t. Instead, we should honor the culture and heritage of Indigenous people and recognize the full history of American colonization.
For some Italian-Americans, this may feel like it diminishes their heritage. It can certainly be upsetting and disorienting to learn that the historical figures we revered were not the heroes we once thought they were. As an Italian-American, it was at first a concern for me as well. But the more I learned, the more my perspective changed. And remember, Italians have a lot to be proud of without overblowing the cultural importance of Columbus. Adopting Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes that the specifics of this holiday run so deep into human suffering that we need to shift our pride elsewhere.
This is not a case of erasing history. It is a case of recognizing the fuller scope of history and being more respectful toward those to whom it was unkind. We still have descendants of the first people who populated these lands among us. We should not make a celebration of their tragedy.
–Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone