Columbus Day should not have been 'arbitrarily' changed, Mayor de Blasio says

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
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Mayor Bill de Blasio said the change onto the New York City Schools 2021-2022 calendar was made without Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter's or his own input.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio said Columbus Day should not have been "arbitrarily" changed to Indigenous People's Day on the Department of Education calendar.

He said the change announced for the 2021-2022 academic year was made without Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter's or his own input.

"Look, I think this process wasn't handled right," he said. "I certainly didn't hear about the change, nor did the chancellor."

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Initially, Columbus Day was removed from the calendar entirely and replaced with Indigenous People's Day, but after a discussion with Ross Porter, they agreed that October 11 will honor both Italian Heritage and Indigenous People.

"I'm an Italian American, I could not be more proud," de Blasio said. "I focus on my heritage all the time. I honor my grandparents who came here from Southern Italy. I've been to their hometowns. I could not feel my heritage more strongly. We have to honor that day as a day to recognize the contributions of all Italian Americans. Of course, the day should not have been changed arbitrarily. I think saying it's a day to celebrate Italian American heritage is absolutely right and appropriate, and that's the way to talk about it."

Republican lawmakers were quick to jump on the issue Tuesday, with City Council members Joe Borelli and Steve Matteo and Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis issuing a joint statement demanding the Department of Education restore the name "Columbus Day" to the holiday.

"Columbus Day has been celebrated in the United States since 1972, marking the 300th anniversary of Columbus' sailing," the wrote. "The holiday, which venerates celebrated Genovese explorer Christopher Columbus, has been observed by Italian-Americans since 1892 when President Benjamin Harrison declared the day a holiday following the lynching of 11 Italian immigrants in the City of New Orleans. Nearly 1 million Italian Americans reside in New York City and 5th Avenue is home to the largest Columbus Day parade in the country. Borelli, Malliotakis and Matteo believe Indigenous Peoples' Day can be celebrated without a change to Columbus Day."

The calendar has since been updated to celebrate October 11 as Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People's Day.

"I think also saying, as has been done in many parts of the country, it's a day to think about and honor Indigenous People as well, I agree with that too," de Blasio said. "So the process wasn't right, but the end result is going to be a day to honor Italian Americans and Indigenous Peoples. I think that's a good way forward."

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Governor Andrew Cuomo also weighed in, saying Columbus Day will remain on the state calendar, and "that applies to every city," including New York City.

"Columbus Day is a state holiday, and Columbus Day will stay a state holiday," he said. "I recognize and support the Italian American contribution to this city and state, which is significant and should not be diminished."

Cuomo also said he disagrees with the city's creation of a combination holiday.

"Why do you feel the need to diminish the Italian American contribution to recognize the indigenous peoples' contribution?" Cuomo said.

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