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City Council Tables Resolution to Rename Columbus Day

By Joshua J. Florence and Samuel Vasquez, Crimson Staff Writers

The Cambridge City Council again did not vote on a resolution last Monday to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the third time this year.

Despite what the resolution’s proponents claim is strong public support, the legislation is on hold while councillors negotiate how best to change the holiday name and still honor Italian Americans, many of whom see the day as a celebration of their heritage.

Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, who is leading the charge for the name change, said he anticipates the process will continue to play out over the next few months while councillors try to be sensitive to Italian American residents' concerns.

The Council first heard the resolution last October, but pushed it back to late December, when the resolution was again tabled. Since then, Council members have not discussed the resolution in the three meetings since the start of the new year.

The resolution critiques the role of Christopher Columbus in American society and claims his actions should no longer be celebrated.

“The City of Cambridge recognizes that civilization as we know it would not be possible in the Americas without Columbus' voyages,” the resolution reads, “but must also hold to the moral imperative of condemnation of these actions, as we now know them to be violations of justice in the eyes of international, domestic, and moral laws.”

Councillor Jan Devereux, a supporter of the name change, said she hoped the group could reach some form of compromise to change the name and “acknowledge that many Italian Americans have made many contributions and should be recognized.”

A city council committee is currently investigating how to best honor Italian Americans’ contributions while also removing the name of a controversial historical figure, according to Devereux.

While the council continues to consider the resolution, many local residents have expressed their support for changing the name to Indigenous Peoples’ Day given the controversial history of Columbus. More than a dozen residents offered public comment at the December 21 council meeting, with the overwhelming majority saying they supported the resolution.

“I very much feel that the celebration of the first European to hit these shores is an absurdly racist way of putting the European above the rest in the world,” said Jeanne E. Koopman, a member of the Cambridge Residents Alliance who sent an email supporting the resolution to the council late last month.

While traditionally a day supporting Italian heritage, Mazen and Devereux noted that views on Columbus Day have changed among the populace.

“We’re also hearing from many Italian Americans who said, ‘I had no idea of Columbus’ bloody history,’” Mazen said.

Harvard saw its own share of efforts to change the holiday name this fall, when a number of students gathered outside Matthews Hall within Harvard Yard to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. About two years ago, similar demonstrations took place in Ticknor Lounge.

In Massachusetts, October was deemed Italian Heritage Month in 1999 under Governor Paul A. Cellucci. Columbus Day has frequently been the center of cultural celebration for Italian Americans in the Greater Boston Area, with parades honoring Italian heritage held throughout the region.

Devereux and Mazen said they expect discussions to continue into the future and remain steadfast in their support of the resolution.

“It is time to stop celebrating Columbus,” Devereux said. “I hope it comes off of unfinished business.”

—Staff writer Joshua Florence can be reached at joshua.florence@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.

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City PoliticsCambridge City CouncilCambridge