Italian-Americans who lost Columbus Day keep their month, get added ‘Heritage Day’

Celebrations of other immigrant experiences are to be explored

A vigil is held Monday at City Hall after a weekend attack at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub catering to a gay and Latino crowd. Nearby is a crosswalk painted for Saturday’s gay Pride events. (Photo: Marc Levy)
A vigil is held Monday at City Hall after a weekend attack at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub catering to a gay and Latino crowd. Nearby is a crosswalk painted for Saturday’s gay Pride events. (Photo: Marc Levy)

There was comfort Monday for Italian-Americans upset over the loss of Columbus Day in Cambridge as a result of June 6 order replacing it with Indigenous Peoples Day: The City Council reaffirmed all of October as Italian Heritage Month in the city, and Oct. 1 has been designated Italian Heritage Day to kick off the month of celebration.

There was nearly a broader approach taken to reflect the immigrant experience of all cultures and nationalities, reflecting the kaleidoscope of heritages making up the 28 percent of residents who are foreign born and cause for the reportedly more than 50 languages heard on city streets. In the end, attempts to expand the heritage month to all immigrant peoples was set aside to be introduced separately, and the events introduced Monday focused on Italian-Americans progressed alone.

Uproar from outraged Italian-Americans was heard by councillors after they agreed to change the focus of the holiday held every second Monday in October from Christopher Columbus, who has long been identified as a slaver and bringer of genocide, to the Native Americans who suffered after his arrival in the “New World.”


“I had a weird amount of racist backlash on social media. I think sometimes this stuff can bring out the worst in people,” said councillor Nadeem Mazen, who helped bring the idea to the council last fall and led discussions on the issue with vice mayor Marc McGovern. “I just want to make sure that people who watch this … understand that whatever side of whatever issue we stand on, we’re standing for certain issues and ideologies and hopes we have, but we’re not standing against anyone.”

“And certainly when we stand for something in this room, it doesn’t mean people should retaliate with racial overtones,” Mazen said.

A Facebook user identifying himself as a Charlotte, N.C., resident expressed passion about his Italian-American heritage and outrage over the change in holidays in Cambridge in an online conversation Wednesday, saying in reference to Mazen, “Back where I grew up, some scumbag like that raghead would have been taken out permanent real quick!!!” When another participant in the conversation said his comment was “a bit much … too much,” the Charlotte resident responded that “45 years ago in a city that was 65 percent Italian I saw people get taken out. Was just saying.”

Others as well – in this conversation, from outside Cambridge – also expressed disapproval.


“We certainly heard from a lot of folks in the Italian-American community who felt disrespected by that change. It was certainly never the intent,” McGovern said. “I hope this [order] goes toward helping heal any disrespect that anybody felt.”

The vote for Indigenous Peoples Day “failed to recognize the contribution of Italian-Americans in the founding of this country,” said councillor Tim Toomey, asking for the city manager to work with prominent Cambridge Italian-Americans to figure out a format to celebrate their heritage.

McGovern – another target of angry messages since the June 6 vote – praised East Cambridge resident and activist Emmanuel “Manny” Lusardi (who signed up for public comment at the council meeting with his full name, Emmanuel Enrico Josephi Lusardi) for being involved with the process over the course of months, and for his reasoned responses.

Including other immigrants

061316 immigrant cityIt was Mayor E. Denise Simmons who then asked fellow councillors to “take a broad look” at celebrating other cultural and ethnic heritage as well.

Though it wouldn’t be obvious from the past months of prominence for Italian-Americans who feared losing a unique day of celebration, their heritage is hardly the only immigrant demographic in the city, and by far not the biggest. The U.S. Census’ American Community Survey put the Irish as the most common identified ancestry in Cambridge, at 14 percent; Germans follow at 9 percent; Italians and English are tied at 8 percent. (The remainder: the Polish, at 3.6 percent; West Indians, at 3.5 percent; Russians, at 3.4 percent; Subsaharan Africans at just over 3 percent, and French at just below; and the Portuguese at 2.5 percent.)

“We’re a nation of immigrants … certainly Italian-Americans have experienced discrimination, but probably no more than any of the other immigrant communities in Cambridge,” councillor Jan Devereux said. “Does the Portuguese-Brazilian community then come and say, ‘Where’s our month?’ We can widely acknowledge to the community that all immigrants need to be celebrated.”

Process promised

Councillor Dennis Carlone, himself an Italian-American, agreed – noting that his immigrant father became a boxer to defend himself against the threat of anti-Italian violence. “But as somebody who loves history, I sadly learned not only that the Italians were mistreated, but that we could go right down the list to every ethnic group there is, including today’s difficult recognition of what happened in Orlando.”

A community vigil was held just before the council meeting at City Hall in solidarity with people affected by an attack over the weekend at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub catering to a gay and Latino crowd. Fifty people were killed and even more were injured in the biggest mass shooting in U.S. history. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, responded by citing the shooter’s Muslim background and Afghan heritage and renewing calls to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the country from anywhere with “a proven history of terrorism.”

But Simmons opted to preserve the policy order by Toomey and councillor David Maher for solely Italian-American recognition. Toomey and she would introduce an order next week to recognize everyone else’s ethnic heritage, she said.

It was unclear how the celebrations for Italian-Americans and other immigrant heritages would work together.

“I’m going to leave that to the people that will work on it. I’m sure there will be a process through which people will sit down and talk about it and work it out,” Simmons said after the meeting.


3 Responses to "Italian-Americans who lost Columbus Day keep their month, get added ‘Heritage Day’"

  1. Anthony D. Galluccio   Tuesday, June 14, 2016 at 12:12 pm,d.dmo I love my City and no one respects the Council more than I do. However,this was handled incorrectly.I did my best to compromise and fair warn. A slap in the face to especially older Italians who suffered and a step back for the Movement on behalf of Native Americans. This could have unified two groups who have some common experience and instead divided. This could have been used to educate about both Columbus, Italian American prejudice , Immigrant prejudice and celebrate Native American pride. A small group who no little about Italian American experience chose to ignore our attempts to “compromise”. this was done in a non-Cambridge fashion and was divisive. 80 year old Italians should not have to attend council meetings to expect a body that supports immigrants to ward off attacks on their heritage. Columbus day without question has been used by Italians to celebrate the overcoming of prejudice not the celebration of Columbus. Parades luncheons discussion groups that revisit the above topics happen on that day to mark our path and struggle. It has occurred for generations. Comments that minimize this or relate it to other experiences is not relevant and just makes this worse. Insulting one group and erasing their history is not defended by saying another group was also mistreated, We should add more recognitions of American prejudice not take away those that exist today. This was mishandled and the comments minimizing or relating the Italian experience to others add insult. the obvious compromise was “Italian Heritage-Heritage-indiginous peoples Day” That was not good enough. ironically this compromise would have unified, educated and helped advance the movement. Now Italians are organizing and are feeling slighted. People chose a power play in Cambridge rather than a good example on how to grow a movement and Unite. F- on the original paper and D- for the redraft. Lesson take your time on the redraft and get it right.

  2. HRASHID   Thursday, June 16, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    Peace Be Unto You,

    I’m sorry you all didn’t believe me the first time i offered public comment at the City Hall, when I said Chris Columbus was of mixed parentage (Black/White), it’s written right in the Genoa, Italy’s record of vital statistic, that Columbus was half black. By the way, the patron Saint of Palermo Italy in Black. Columbus found Black people already present in the so-called new world when he arrived with his crews members from Spain.

    Remember Chris Columbus prove to the people of Spain and other places, that the world was round. Then in Spain and elsewhere, Europe wasn’t that far removed from the Dark Ages, filled with superstitious beliefs etc., including that the world was flat, and that one would fall off of it, into a pit filed with monsters, etc.,. Columbus changed all of that.

    Queen Isabella or the Queen of Spain at that time cleaned up the street of Madrid, and other places with criminals and low lives, of all kind, and gave them to Columbus as crew members on his initial voyages to the so-called new world. She wouldn’t allow Spanish Aristocrats to travel with him, not until they got ride of Columbus did she allow Spain’s Aristocrats to travel to the new world as leaders, soldiers, politicians, clergy etc. first to arrive were the criminal and riffraff, in an attempt to cleans Spain of its undesirable human elements.

    It was the people that Columbus brought with him, and not Columbus, that caused havoc in the Spanish Islands of the new world discoveries. Yes the Spanish criminals and riffraff were the main perpetrators of genocide, etc., in the Spain’s so-called new world possessions.

    It wasn’t Columbus who destroyed the Aztec and Incas empires, it was people the Queen of Spain filed the ships sailing to the new world with. Columbus didn’t go into so-called Africa and capture black men, black women, and black children, and bring them to the new world of Spanish possessions, it was the peoples that the Queen of of Spain assigned to the ship, that sailed to the so-called new world, as crew members ,etc., and who were they?

    Another Italian named Vasco De Gama discovered the main land of the Americas, and he was an all white Italian, you don’t here the that bunch, that called themselves Native American condemning him? Some of these folks in the world discovered Christopher Columbus was of mixed parentage, and now they want deprive him of his greatness because he was a half Blackman. I feel sorry for those folks.

    Yours In Peace,
    Mr. Hasson J. Rashid,
    Cambridge,MA 02139

  3. HRASHID   Sunday, June 19, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    Excuse me, I made a mistake in claiming it was Vasco De Gamma that discovered main land Americas, correction it was Amerigo Vespucci.

    Its strange that the native peoples only get one official day here in Cambridge,MA to celebrate their heritage, while the Italians get a whole month do. The native peoples once again get the shafts.

    Yours In Peace,
    Hasson Rashid

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