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Thousands take to the streets as NYC’s Columbus Day parade returns for the first time since COVID-19


The annual Columbus Day Parade returned to New York City on Monday after being canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Marching bands and floats traveled up Fifth Avenue as spectators waved green, white and red Italian flags as a crowd of 35,000 turned out to celebrate. 

Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, attended New York City’s parade but received very different receptions.

De Blasio, who will leave office at the end of this year due to term limits, was booed and curses at as he walked down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in the parade.

The mayor, who has feuded with the parade organizers previously, was not invited to the virtual event in 2020. And he sparked further outrage with the Italian American groups supporting the day when he announced that city schools were dropping Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

Dancers were part of the annual event  that celebrates the day that Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio (center) walks up Fifth Avenue past St Patrick's Cathedral during the Columbus Day parade

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio (center) walks up Fifth Avenue past St Patrick’s Cathedral during the Columbus Day parade

New York Governor Kathy Hochul attended her first Columbus Day parade as governor in New York City on Monday. All the other times she came for the festivities were when she served as New York's Lieutenant Governor

New York Governor Kathy Hochul attended her first Columbus Day parade as governor in New York City on Monday. All the other times she came for the festivities were when she served as New York’s Lieutenant Governor

New York Governor Kathy Hochul attends the Annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City with other state and local officials, all wearing sashes made with Italian colors

New York Governor Kathy Hochul attends the Annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City with other state and local officials, all wearing sashes made with Italian colors

‘F*** you, you piece of s***,’ a man yelled at De Blasio, followed by clapping from the crowd, according to the New York Post.

‘F*** you, De Blasio. You piece of garbage… Get out of here, you piece of s***. You’re garbage,’ another crowd member shouted. 

Meanwhile Gov. Hochul received cheers of encouragement as she made her way along the parade. 

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan supported De Blasio, calling him a ‘gentlemen.’

‘All I can say is this: He and I have gotten along well. We talk candidly and disagree on stuff, but he’s been a gentleman. We’ve worked together. Have there been controversies? Sure,’ Dolan said. ‘In general, I’m grateful, very grateful, that we got along so well.’

Republican mayoral candidate and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa said he anticipated De Blasio would face backlash from Italian Americans at the parade.

‘I’m looking forward to Bill de Blasio being booed,’ Sliwa said. ‘He got elected saying he was 100% Italian, now watch the Italians boo him!’    

Republican nominee for the 2021 New York City mayoral election Curtis Sliwa greets people during the annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City

Republican nominee for the 2021 New York City mayoral election Curtis Sliwa greets people during the annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City

Cardinal Timothy Dolan (left) defended Mayor De Blasio (right), who said he and de Blasio get along very well despite their disagrees over certain issues

Cardinal Timothy Dolan (left) defended Mayor De Blasio (right), who said he and de Blasio get along very well despite their disagrees over certain issues

FORZA ITALIA: People with Italian heritage were seen waving Italian flags on New York City's streets on Monday to celebrate Columbus Day

FORZA ITALIA: People with Italian heritage were seen waving Italian flags on New York City’s streets on Monday to celebrate Columbus Day

Participants walking who took part in this year's Columbus Day parade did not hide their proud Italian heritage as they walked down Fifth Avenue

Participants walking who took part in this year’s Columbus Day parade did not hide their proud Italian heritage as they walked down Fifth Avenue

Italian flags fly from floats during 77th annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City as members of the Catholic church joined in the celebrations

Italian flags fly from floats during 77th annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City as members of the Catholic church joined in the celebrations

Decades-old vehicles bearing U.S. and Italian flags roll up Fifth Avenue during today's 77th Columbus Day parade

Decades-old vehicles bearing U.S. and Italian flags roll up Fifth Avenue during today’s 77th Columbus Day parade

Hundreds of attendees cheered from the sidewalks as local politicians, high school bands, Italian racing cars and groups associated with Italian heritage were part of the parade's runway up Fifth Avenue

Hundreds of attendees cheered from the sidewalks as local politicians, high school bands, Italian racing cars and groups associated with Italian heritage were part of the parade’s runway up Fifth Avenue

Before the parade, De Blasio said that he was proud of his Italian heritage and that he he’d like to see Italian-Americans shared Columbus Day with Native Americans, who now call the occasion Indigenous People’s Day. 

‘Italian Americans, tens of millions of Italians Americans, came to this country, made this country a better place. You’ve got to honor the Italian American people. That’s what the day should be about,’ the mayor said in a statement. 

‘It doesn’t have to be a contradiction. Let’s love and respect Italian American heritage. I’m very, very proud of it. Let’s also acknowledge the history of Native Americans and support them.’ 

On Friday, President Bien issued the first-ever executive order of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which was observed Monday along with Columbus Day.  

The White House said it the order was created to shift efforts to help strengthen Native American tribal universities and colleges, as well as boost economic and educational opportunities for indigenous people.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden spent their holiday Monday attending the wedding of their nephew Cuffe Owens and Meghan King, a former star of the reality TV show Real Housewives of Orange County.

US President Joe Biden (left) waves as he walks to the White House with First Lady Jill Biden (right) and his granddaughter Naomi Biden  (behind)  upon his return from Delaware in Washington, DC

US President Joe Biden (left) waves as he walks to the White House with First Lady Jill Biden (right) and his granddaughter Naomi Biden  (behind)  upon his return from Delaware in Washington, DC

Billed as the nation’s largest celebration of Italian American pride, the Columbus Day Parade has faced criticism in recent years from activists who fault the 15th-century explorer Christopher Columbus for his brutal treatment of Indigenous people in the West Indies. 

Columbus was born in the Republic of Genoa, part of modern-day Italy. He sailed from Spain in August 1492 and landed in an island in the Bahamas on October 12 of that year.

Many of the native people of the island were forced into servitude. Multitudes died of disease.

Spain repopulated the workforce with African slaves.

The first national Columbus Day was proclaimed in 1892 by Republican President Benjamin Harrison to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of the Americas.

VROOM VROOM: A woman rides a Vespa during the Annual Columbus day parade in New York City

VROOM VROOM: A woman rides a Vespa during the Annual Columbus day parade in New York City

Marching bands and floats traveled up Fifth Avenue as spectators waved green, white, and red Italian flags

Marching bands and floats traveled up Fifth Avenue as spectators waved green, white, and red Italian flags  

Who was Christopher Columbus and why is he so divisive? 

Christopher Columbus, (1451 - 1506)

Christopher Columbus, (1451 – 1506)

Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa, Italy in 1451, secured his place in history by leading the first expeditions to make European contact with the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Sponsored by the Spanish monarchy, Columbus made four expeditions across the Atlantic in a quest to find a western sea passage to the East Indies.

Columbus had convinced Spain’s Queen Isabella to fund his voyage by promising that the riches he’d collect would be used to finance a crusade to ‘reclaim’ Jerusalem for Christians. Instead, he found new foods, animals and indigenous people who, he wrote, were childlike and could be easily enslaved. 

Even in his own time, Columbus was accused of cruelty and incompetence in his role as Viceroy and Governor of the Indies, and of brutal mistreatment of the native Taino people on the island of Hispaniola.

Columbus’ supporters say that many of the claims are exaggerated or false, and that the matter is clouded by a contemporaneous smear campaign both against Columbus by his political rivals, and by northern European countries against Catholic Spain.

However, there is good evidence that Columbus brutally subjugated and enslaved the Taino people in the quest for gold.

In 2006, historians discovered a contemporaneous investigative report in Spanish archives, which revealed the results of an inquiry into accusations that Columbus ruled brutally as governor.

The report contained accounts of mutilation, torture and cruelty that were shocking even to Columbus’ contemporaries, and resulted in his permanent removal as governor and temporary imprisonment by King Ferdinand.

‘Columbus’s government was characterized by a form of tyranny,’ Consuelo Varela, a Spanish historian who has seen the document, told journalists. ‘Even those who loved him had to admit the atrocities that had taken place.’

Around 60 years after Columbus’ arrival, the Taino indigenous population of the Caribbean had been reduced from an estimated 250,000 people to a few hundred because of slavery and death from new diseases. 

However for many Italian Americans, the Italian-born explorer continues to be an important symbol in their heritage.    

In May, New York City‘s public school system eliminated the Columbus Day holiday, replacing it with ‘Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day’ while also adding Juneteenth as a school holiday for the first time. 

The city’s Department of Education posted the 2021-22 school calendar online without fanfare, replacing Columbus Day on October 11 with Indigenous People’s Day.

After backlash from the city’s Italian American leaders, the calendar was taken offline and re-posted with the holiday changed to ‘Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day.’ 

Regardless of what New York City does, Columbus Day remains a federal holiday, as it has been since 1937. While all federal offices are closed on the holiday, not all states recognize it as an off day.

De Blasio said he supported the compromise.

‘We have to honor that day as a day to recognize the contributions of all Italian Americans, so of course the day should not have been changed arbitrarily,’ de Blasio said.

Juneteenth, which celebrates the June 19 date in 1865 when the final slaves in the US were emancipated, falls on a Sunday in 2022 and will be observed by the school system on June 20.  

The initial removal of Columbus Day without any mention of an ‘Italian Heritage Day’ drew angry reactions from New York’s leaders in the Italian American community.

City Councilman Joe Borelli of Staten Island called the change ‘insulting woke nonsense’ in a tweet.

After the Department of Education backtracked on the name of the holiday, he remarked: ‘They tried, they got caught, they changed it, they covered the mistake. Cowards. Just have the gumption to cancel the day. Wonder what our mayoral candidates think?’ 

In March, Meisha Porter took over as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, and would ultimately oversee any changes to the school holiday calendar. 

Monday’s federal holiday dedicated to Columbus is highlighting the ongoing divide between those who view the explorer as a representative of Italian American history and others horrified by an annual tribute that ignores native people whose lives and culture were forever changed by colonialism.

Spurred by national calls for racial equity, communities across the US took a deeper look at Columbus’ legacy in recent years – pairing or replacing it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Members of Native American tribes, said ending the formal holiday in Columbus’ name has been stymied by politicians and organizations focusing on Italian American heritage.

‘The opposition has tried to paint Columbus as a benevolent man, similar to how white supremacists have painted Robert E. Lee,’ Les Begay, Diné Nation member and co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Coalition of Illinois, said, referring to the Civil War general who led the Confederate Army.

Columbus’ arrival began centuries of exploration and colonization by European nations, bringing violence, disease and other suffering to native people already living in the Western Hemisphere.

‘Not honoring Indigenous peoples on this day just continues to erase our history, our contributions and the fact that we were the first inhabitants of this country,’ Begay said.

Across the country tension, over the two holidays has been playing out since the early 1990s. 

Debates over monuments and statues of the Italian explorer tread similar ground, as in Philadelphia where the city placed a box over a Columbus statue last year in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer. 

Protesters opposing racial injustice and police brutality against people of color rallied for months in summer 2020.

Philadelphia lawyer George Bochetto, who has been fighting Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration to uncover the statue, said Saturday many felt efforts to remove it were an attack on Italian-American heritage.

Kenney previously signed an executive order changing the city´s annual Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Monday will be the first city holiday under the new name.

‘We have a mayor that´s doing everything he can to attack the Italian American community, including canceling its parade, removing statues, changing the Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day by fiat,’ Bochetto said.

Kenney spokesperson Kevin Lessard said the statue should remain boxed up ‘in the best interest and public safety of all Philadelphians.’

The city's decision to remove the 144-year-old artwork last July was unsupported by law and based on insufficient evidence, wrote Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick in her Tuesday decision.

The city’s decision to remove the 144-year-old artwork last July was unsupported by law and based on insufficient evidence, wrote Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick in her Tuesday decision.

A city worker measures the statue of Christopher Columbus at Marconi Plaza to build a wooden box around it to protect it from protestors while its fate was debated

A city worker measures the statue of Christopher Columbus at Marconi Plaza to build a wooden box around it to protect it from protestors while its fate was debated

City crews built a wooden box around the statue following clashes between protesters and residents and the city later announced plans to seek its removal

City crews built a wooden box around the statue following clashes between protesters and residents and the city later announced plans to seek its removal

In 2016, Lincoln, Nebraska, joined other cities adding Indigenous Peoples’ Day to the calendar on the same date as Columbus Day. 

Events on Monday will focus on the newer addition, including unveiling a statue honoring the first Native American physician, Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte.

Some feel a split day causes further harm. Activists plan a small protest outside the Robert V. Denney Federal Building, calling for an outright end to the holiday in Columbus’ name at all levels of government.

‘It’s patently absurd to honor Indigenous people and the man who tortured and murdered their ancestors,’ said Jackson Meredith, an organizer. 

‘As far as we’re concerned, we’re going to keep protesting it until Columbus Day is abolished.’

Chicago’s annual Columbus Day parade also returns Monday after the pandemic forced 2020’s cancellation of the event that draws 20,000 people. 

It’s a vivid reminder of the ongoing fight over three statues of Columbus, still warehoused by the city after protesters targeted them in summer 2020.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot in July 2020 ordered the statues removed and said demonstrations were endangering protesters and police.

She later created a committee to review monuments in the city, including the fate of Columbus monuments. 

Chicago's controversial statue of Christopher Columbus is hoisted away by a crane in the early hours last year, watched by a municipal crew who helped to remove it from Grant Park

Chicago’s controversial statue of Christopher Columbus is hoisted away by a crane in the early hours last year, watched by a municipal crew who helped to remove it from Grant Park

No plans have been announced publicly, but the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans that plans the Columbus Day parade this summer sued the city’s park district, demanding that one be restored.

Ron Onesti, the organization’s president, said the parade usually draws protesters and expects that on Monday too. 

He sees the holiday, parade and statues as a celebration of Italian Americans’ contributions to the US, not just Columbus.

‘The outcome I’m looking for is (for) our traditions to be respected and conversations to continue,’ Onesti said Saturday. 

‘Every plaque that goes along with a statue says it recognizes the Italian community’s contributions. So people need to understand that’s why it’s there, and then let’s sit down and figure out where to go from here.’

Illinois in 2017 designated the last Monday in September as Indigenous Peoples’ Day but kept Columbus Day on the second Monday of October. 

A proposal to replace Columbus Day filed this year hasn’t received any action.

Chicago Public Schools in 2020 voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, provoking outrage from several alderman and Italian American groups. 

The city’s holiday calendar still lists Columbus Day.

Begay, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day advocate, said the organization decided to focus on changing Columbus Day first in Cook County, hoping it would be an easier path than convincing state or Chicago officials. 

But so far, members of the county’s board haven’t lined up behind the proposal.

‘Why are 500 plus years still forgotten?’ Begay said. 

‘Why don’t we have this single day to recognize these horrible atrocities committed against native people?’   

Te most prominent statue of Columbus still standing in the U.S. may be the monument atop a 76-foot column in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle.

The statue has remained behind police barricades for nearly a year, before it was vandalized in May and its future remains hotly debated. 

Last month, the Maine Monument at Columbus Circle was vandalized with red paint by BLM protesters. The Columbus monument in the circle remains hotly debated

Last month, the Maine Monument at Columbus Circle was vandalized with red paint by BLM protesters. The Columbus monument in the circle remains hotly debated



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