Italian Americans Rally Against DOE Decision to Remove Columbus Day from Public Schools Calendar

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By Jessica Easthope

Representatives from the outraged Italian-American community are making their voices heard. In the shadow of his Columbus Circle statue in Manhattan May 12, they rallied around the Italian explorer who they say is being canceled.

“Our civil rights have been violated as well as the civil rights of tens of thousands of Italian-American students in public schools and this wrong should be made right,” said Angelo Vivolo, the president of the Columbus Heritage Coalition.

Last week, the Department of Education replaced Columbus Day, which is celebrated on the second Monday in October, with Indigenous Peoples Day, then later added Italian Heritage Day to its calendar. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was not consulted before the change was made.

“This process wasn’t handled right. I certainly didn’t hear about the change nor did the chancellor,” Mayor de Blasio said.

If the day is not reinstated, Italian American organizations say they’re prepared to take legal action.

“On behalf of the lawyers, we are going to do everything the legal system has to offer to make sure Columbus is not forgotten,” said trial attorney Arthur Aidala.

“There’s not an obvious route through the legal system to get this done, but we have some brilliant legal minds figuring out a way to do that,” Arthur said. “Of course, we’d prefer not to have to go through the court system and people use their common sense and put back what’s been on the calendar for almost 100 years.”

One fact about the Italian explorer that never seems to be up for debate is that Christopher Columbus was Catholic. Those rallying, Wednesday, say any attack on Italian American culture is an attack on faith.

“He wanted to spread the word of Christ and this is an affront to Catholics as well,” Angelo said.

“The Catholic church is not going to be canceled, Christopher Columbus is not going to be canceled, and the contributions of Italian Americans to this country is not going to be canceled,” Arthur said.

Community leaders say now is the time to fight for the students who are on the losing end of the move.

“It’s like a smack in the face,” said Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the community watch guard group Guardian Angels. “They want to rob us of free speech about Columbus in the schools. They want to take away the statues, they want to expunge him from history, which you just can’t do.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he does not agree with the decision to remove Christopher Columbus Day from the public schools calendar and assures it will remain a city and state holiday.