Dear Mr. President,
In October of last year, the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations (COPOMIAO) wrote to you to express our community’s collective concern with respect to the proclamations you issued pertaining to Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day. Those proclamations left the nation confused as Indigenous Peoples Day was linked to the historically celebrated Federal holiday originally recognized and enacted by President Harrison in 1892. That year’s Federal holiday, recognizing the 400th Anniversary of the landing of Columbus, was adopted as a way of easing tensions among America and Italy after a brutal lynching of eleven innocent Sicilian men in New Orleans, the largest mass lynching in our history.
Last year’s proclamation implies that Indigenous Peoples Day should be celebrated on Columbus Day. The entire month of November is duly recognized as Indigenous Peoples month and August 9th is recognized as the international celebration of Indigenous People Day.
We understand your efforts to bring unification to the Nation after two unwieldy years from managing a national health crisis. However, the optics of contaminating the focus and purpose of a recognized traditional Federal holiday for Columbus, with another purpose or focus, rewards one group of Americans politically, at the expense of another. This of course is not a demonstration of a unifying policy, but rather something less.
To be clear, the Italian American community across America respects and supports an Indigenous Peoples Day celebration, which should be celebrated with a singular focus in November or by expanding the existing international celebration of Indigenous People on August 9th either of which the Italian American community happily supports. At the same time the Italian American community requires the same level of respect for our historical, traditional celebration of Columbus Day which reflects the value of all immigrants and their added value to the fabric of this Nation.
This action, to remove a day celebrated by Italian Americans for generations, although unintentional, was clear and most disrespectful to the upwards of 20 million Americans who identify as having roots in Italy.
Most recently, Mr. President, you have stressed that our democracy is on the line in the upcoming mid-term elections. Indeed, that is true. But an equally profound threat to our democracy is any policy of exclusion, of favoring one group of Americans over another.
We would appreciate a few moments of your time to reach common sense solutions. This will allow all of us to come away from this more united, not divided. The magic of democracy is most notable when each of us can celebrate our unique heritage and cultural traditions and accomplishments, as well as respecting the traditions and accomplishments of all ethnic groups, which make up the fabric of America.
We therefore again respectfully request the opportunity to meet with you and your staff advisors, in person, to discuss more specific language recognizing the contributions of Italian Americans in this year’s Columbus Day proclamation from the White House.
A meeting with you and your staff would provide an opportunity for a discussion to avert unintended misperceptions and help move the nation closer to unification, without promoting the culture and heritage of one group of Americans at the expense of another.
Kindly contact my office prior to September 14th to schedule this important meeting and discuss any required security clearance protocols for our attendees.
Basil M. Russo
President, Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations (COPOMIAO)
CLICK HERE to view a pdf copy of the letter, which includes all the leaders and organizations who are supporting this vital effort.
(Photo Credit: Ryan Rahman, iStock)