Despite opposition from Italian-Americans, the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day — advancing a nationwide movement to cease honoring the Genoa explorer and instead the victims of colonization.
The Board of Supervisors voted 10 to 1 to amend the administrative code “to declare the second Monday in October to be Indigenous Peoples Day.”
It requires “all official city communications, notices, calendars, and other publications, whether electronic or paper, shall refer to that day as Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day.”
The legislation was introduced by Supervisor Malia Cohen as part of a nationwide movement by Native American activists to do away with the federal holiday, which began in 1937. They argue it is wrong to celebrate a day named after the Italian explorer since the land he discovered was already inhabited, and it marked the start of colonization that decimated their ancestors.
But Italian-Americans, who have long celebrated their heritage on that day, opposed the legislation.
“This is an insult to the Italians who have done so much for the city of San Francisco,” Christina Olivolo, of the Le Donne d’Italia, a Italian Women’s club in San Francisco, said after the vote. “And so much of what San Francisco is famous for now is because of the Italians.”
She named contributions like Fisherman’s Wharf, Joe DiMaggio and how “after the 1906 earthquake, it was the Italians who rebuilt this city in an impressive amount of time.”
Olivolo said she was “fine with getting rid of the name Columbus Day. I sympathize with the indigenous people in that way. I would prefer they call it Italian Heritage Day. That is the day of Italians to honor Italians.”
Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood North Beach, requested a postponement, but his request was opposed by the board and he voted against the proposal.
“We received lots of emails about this. I would like some time to see if we can figure out a path forward that works both for our indigenous native peoples as well as for folks of Italian heritage,” Peskin said, in asking for a one-week postponement on the vote.
Cohen opposed the postponement. “It is important. It has been discussed in committee,” she said.
The board sided with Cohen, shooting down the continuance in a 7-4 vote. Peskin and supervisors Hillary Ronen, Katy Tang and Mark Farrell supported the continuance.
North Beach’s Italian-American community was surprised by the proposal, according to Marc Bruno, a resident of that neighborhood. He called on the board to postpone the vote.
“The Italian Athletic Club, the Italian Cathedral of the West, Sts. Peter and Paul Church, the sponsors of the Italian American Heritage Parade and Italian Community Services were excluded from the process until representatives of these groups were first phoned by the San Francisco Examiner four days ago,” Bruno wrote in an email Tuesday to the board.
He also said the proposal was noticed in a misleading way, because it didn’t indicate it would replace Columbus Day.
Italian-Americans who opposed the proposal supported naming any other day for indigenous peoples.
“San Francisco is inclusive and open-minded and not divisive. The board had an opportunity today to not choose or replace or pick one — those terms are not inclusive. They mean you over you,” said Steven Cursi, a resident. “Why are we saying you can’t have your day, we are going to give it to indigenous people. I completely support an Indigenous Peoples Day. Give them a week.”
Yee said that he would like to support legislation in the future “to also honor the Italian American heritage. So for me it’s not taking one away for another.”
Ronen said she supported the postponement in the spirit of working out a compromise, but said Cohen’s proposal was “long overdue.” “Correcting our history and the history of the native people that were brutally both slaughtered and killed off by disease who were in this land prior to an Italian explorer coming and ‘discovering’ the land that people had been on for a very long time is very overdue,” Ronen said.
The legislation referred to a 2007 Human Rights Commission report titled “Discrimination by Omission: Issues of Concern for Native Americans in San Francisco.”
“For Native Americans, a federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus is an insulting gesture. For millions, 1492 marked the beginning of the implementation of policies designed to systematically exterminate Native American people and their cultures,” the 2007 report reads.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information.