Madeline Hopper '21
Dear writer of “Columbus Day, Vindicated,”
Before I begin, while you sent a letter to the Editors-in-Chief (EiC) of The Exchanged, a group that includes myself, David Donoghue ’21, and Nisa Quarles ’21, I was one of the editors who supported our publication calling October 12th Indigenous Peoples’ Day. My opinions do not represent those of Nisa nor David. Furthermore, they do not represent those of The Exchanged’s staff or the publication itself.
The truth is this: Italian American heritage is important. According to The United Census Bureau estimate, there are 17.8 million Americans of Italian descent, of which I am one. While you may try to justify celebrating Columbus Day as a day to honor Italian heritage, in my opinion, reducing Italian American heritage to the actions of one man dangerously risks the undermining of the broader Italian story in America. Italians faced anti-Italian and anti-immigrant hostility at the beginning of the 20th century (Sacco and Vanzetti’s contentious trial, for example). Until doing research for this letter, I didn’t know about this story in depth (Diavolo, “Instead of Columbus Day…”). Advocating for the honor of other Italians in America could provide an opportunity to learn more about these stories. To most Americans, and certainly to the United States Government, Columbus Day is not about these stories of the Italian American journey; it is about Columbus himself.
That being said, you are right, Columbus has made significant contributions to American history; he was a pioneer of the system of colonialism that caused the genocide and displacement of Indigenous peoples in the U.S. After Columbus helped “discover” America, as the governor of Hispaniola, he forced Indigenous peoples of the Bahamas into slavery and cut their hands off if they didn’t bring him enough gold (Klein, “10 Things You May Not Know About Christopher Columbus”). The fact that your letter states that Columbus Day is and should be about “honoring a man who … made some of the most significant contributions to American society” is intensely egregious and highly offensive to Indigenous peoples in our country. Our country has always prioritized the stories of Columbus and disregarded those of Indigenous peoples. Even today, in schools across the country, learning the names of the ships on which Columbus sailed is considered to be more important than learning about the stolen Indigenous land upon which we live. Calling the renaming of Columbus Day an effect of “cancel culture” is extremely disrespectful to Indigenous peoples and tribes who even today are still grappling with the effect of Christopher Columbus. For example, the federal government doesn’t allow Indigenous Peoples to manage their reservation’s land, causing an inability to start businesses on Native Land and profit off of natural resources. Today, one in three Indigenous peoples live in poverty (Regan, “5 Ways the Government Keeps Native Americans In Poverty”).
I agree with you on our school’s decision to call October 12th Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but I am dissatisfied with the schools’ approach to October 12th. As they so often do, they stayed neutral. I challenge the administrations on the Close to show allyship to their students by calling Columbus Day, what it is recognized as in DC: Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Columbus himself is not someone to “honor.” As an EiC who aims to make everyone feel comfortable and valued, I personally could not allow our publication to stay neutral during a holiday which normally celebrates the beginning of European domination and genocide in the Americas. I hope this letter provided you some clarity on why I made the decision I did. Again, I only represent myself and the choice I made for the paper. The staff, the other Editors-in-Chief, and the writers may or may not feel differently.
On some level, I believe your letter is a check on the kind of education and discussions we need to continue to have. There is a group of opinions, like this one, that doesn’t seem to see the light on the Close, a place some consider to be a liberal bubble. While I sharply disagree with your opinion, I want to encourage this kind of discourse further. As you and our readers comment on this letter and talk about these issues on social media, please be courteous to each other. The Exchanged will delete all anonymous comments and all comments aimed towards the writer and not the writing itself on our website.
Christopher Klein. “10 Things You May Not Know About Christopher Columbus,” August 31, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-christopher-columbus.
Lucy Diavolo. “Instead of Columbus Day, Italian-Americans Should Celebrate Sacco andVanzetti Dayon August 23.” Teen Vogue, n.d.https://www.teenvogue.com/story/columbus-day-italian-americans-celebrate-sacco-vanzetti-day-august-23.
Shawn Regan. “5 Ways The Government Keeps Native Americans In Poverty.” n.d. https://www.indigenouspeoples-sdg.org/index.php/english/ttt/536-5-ways-the-government-keeps-native-americans-in-poverty.
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The content of this article, as with every article posted on The Exchanged, does not represent the views of the staff of The Exchanged nor the National Cathedral School, St. Albans School, Protestant Episcopal Foundation, or any employee thereof. Opinions written are those of the writer and the writer alone.