Why 'Garibaldi Day' should replace Columbus Day as an 'Italian-American holiday': columnist
In heavily Italian-American areas of the United States — from Boston’s North End to the Italian Market in South Philly to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, Manhattan’s Little Italy and Bensonhurst, Brooklyn — Columbus Day is a major event. Yet among some liberals and progressives, the movement to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day has grown in recent years.
Journalist Jonah Shepp, in an article published by New York Magazine on October 10, stresses that he understands both sides of the Columbus Day debate. He understands the disdain for Christopher Columbus among liberals and progressives, but he also sees the need for an Italian-American holiday. And the compromise he proposes is Garibaldi Day.
“Much of the pushback against Indigenous People’s Day has come from the Italian-American community, and while some of the loudest voices against the change carry an off note of racial resentment, they also reflect a legitimate underlying grievance,” Shepp explains. “To many Italian-Americans, canceling Columbus Day feels like canceling them and their history — and whether or not that’s true, it would mean abandoning a celebration of their role in the American story.”
Shepp suggests that “if we are to cancel a national holiday honoring Italian-Americans, we should replace it with another and name it after a more fitting, less problematic representative.” The journalist cites Galileo Galilei and Leonardo da Vinci as “Italian historical figures” but notes that they “lack the American connection.”
“Another standout possibility is Giuseppe Garibaldi, the 19th-Century Italian general and patriot,” Shepp argues. “Garibaldi is one of Italy’s founding fathers — a national hero who played an essential role in the unification of Italy, fought for its independence, and supported several republican and liberation movements in Europe and South America throughout his storied military career. Famously described by the historian A.J.P. Taylor as ‘the only wholly admirable figure in modern history,’ Garibaldi was hardly a literal saint like Mother Cabrini, but he was admired in his own time and remains so today as a champion of liberty in his home country and beyond.”
Shepp adds, “What about Garibaldi’s connection to American history? For one thing, he actually lived in this country for a short while in the early 1850s, whereas Columbus never set foot in the present-day continental U.S. Furthermore, in stark contrast to Columbus, he pressed for the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans, and he might have fought in the American Civil War to that end, if only Abraham Lincoln had been more progressive.”
There are two famous plazas named after members of the Garibaldi Family: Piazza Garibaldi in Naples, Italy, and Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City. The plaza in Napoli is named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, while the plaza in Mexico City — famous for its mariachi bands — is named after his grandson Peppino Garibaldi.
“Garibaldi’s fame as a champion of liberty in both Italy and America makes him among those well-suited to replace Columbus,” Shepp writes. “Who better to take the place of a man whose legacy mainly consisted of slavery and genocide than one who stands for American and Italian ideals of freedom and equality? Columbus was always a poor stand-in for Italian-Americans, anyway. With a Garibaldi Day, Italian-Americans would not just be getting their day back, but trading up from a rightly reviled historical representative to a heroic figure who had a direct, positive impact on modern Italy and the United States.”
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