San Diego's Little Italy Offends Some With Christopher Columbus Tribute

October 5, 2022

San Diego's Little Italy neighborhood has offended some with a banner in support of Christopher Columbus Day, a national holiday many have replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day due to the controversial history of the Italian explorer. 

For the last week or so, a banner has hung over India Street in San Diego's Little Italy reading "Little Italy San Diego Celebrates Christopher Columbus and his contributions to the world during Italian Heritage Month". The Little Italy Association's decision to show such support to the dishonored historical figure has been viewed by many in online forums and on social media as an insensitive and tone-deaf move. 

"So many awesome Italians and Italian-Americans to celebrate and they choose THIS guy… a tyrant who enslaved indigenous people," reads a comment on a Reddit thread about the banner

"We have an airport filled with memorials to Charles Lindbergh this shouldn't surprise anyone," reads another comment. 

The second Monday of October has been a national holiday celebrated as Columbus Day since 1934. Last October, President Joe Biden signed the first presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day, a commemoration-turned-holiday that began in 1977 to honor Native American history and culture. The president's proclamation seemed to mark a shift to rebrand Columbus Day in light of the controversial history of harms the Italian explorer inflicted on indigenous persons. 

"We also acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on tribal nations and Indigenous communities," explained President Biden in his speech announcing the Indigenous Peoples Day holiday. "It is a measure of our greatness as a nation that we do not seek to bury these shameful episodes of our past 0 that we face them honestly, we bring them to the light, and we do all we can to address them."

San Diego's Little Italy has a long history of honoring Columbus Day. For decades, the non-profit association held the Columbus Day FESTA street fair on the Sunday preceding the federal holiday. Known as the largest Italian American festival in the nation, San Diego's FESTA event would attract more than 120,000 attendees each year to the closed off street of the Little Italy neighborhood.

Since the 1990s, there has been increased opposition toward celebration of Columbus Day due to the treatment of the indigenous populations during the European colonization of the Americas. While Columbus is credited in many U.S. history books as the "discoverer of the New World," the land now called America was inhabited by millions of native people prior to 1492. Columbus is believed to have made four expeditions to the Caribbean and South America region over two decades exploring under the Spanish flag, enslaving and decimating populations during that period and opening the floodgates of European colonization.   

Columbus Day remains a federal holiday, and for many Italian Americans, it is a day for honoring Italian heritage. But for critics, the holiday glorifies a man whose heralded acts ultimately led to the genocide and slavery of native peoples. Many cities, towns and states have chosen to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day over the years.  

"The Little Italy Association recognizes that a community is created with a mix of thoughts and beliefs," commented Steve Galasso, President of The Little Italy Association of San Diego. "Our acknowledgement of Christopher Columbus, during Italian Heritage Month, is to highlight the contribution he made during his life, just as we do the many other Italian and Italian Americans from actors, politicians, military, educators and more."

The Little Italy Association of San Diego is a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation that was established in 1996 to oversee the revitalization and beautification of the Little Italy neighborhood in Downtown San Diego. Marco Li Mandri is the Chief Executive Administrator of the organization and Steve Galasso is the President of the Board. 

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