San Francisco Italian American groups launched a referendum campaign Thursday to reclaim the former Columbus Day as “Italian American Heritage Day” following a Board of Supervisors decision last month to rename it as Indigenous Peoples Day.
The board voted 10-1 in January in favor of the name change. The national holiday was named in honor of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, who is credited with discovering the Americas but also with contributing to Native American genocide.
On Thursday, members of the Coalition of Italian American Organizations (CIAO), which represents some 20 groups, gathered in Washington Square Park in North Beach to announce the launch of a signature campaign that aims to place a renaming measure on the November ballot.
Legally, the coalition has 30 days to collect close to 20,000 signatures in support of the referendum.
The City’s move to replace Columbus Day, which falls on the second monday of October, with Indigenous People’s Day mirrors efforts by cities across the country to recognize the violence and discrimination against the country’s Native peoples.
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The coalition is hoping to reclaim the second Monday of October as a day to commemorate Italian heritage and achievement, and has proposed “Italian American Heritage Day” as the holiday’s new namesake.
“We have let Columbus sail away along time ago,” said Guido Perego, president of the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club, who pointed out that the 150-year-old Italian Heritage Parade, formerly known as the Columbus Day parade, was renamed more than 20 years ago.
“We are open to compromise,” said Nicolas Figone, a spokesperson for the coalition. “Right now, the day has been ripped away from the Italian American community with no replacement.”
Once the signatures are approved by the Department of Elections, the measure would go back to the Board of Supervisors for reconsideration, confirmed a spokesperson for the department, who added that depending on the board’s vote, the measure could be placed on the November ballot.
In regard to the coalition’s efforts, San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen, who first introduced the resolution last October, said that it is “highly unlikely that their referendum will bear any fruit.”
“The decision to support Indigenous People’s Day was pretty unanimous,” she said, pointing out that only Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district includes North Beach, voted in opposition.
Cohen added that legislative efforts to designate a day in October as Italian American Heritage Day are already underway.
A resolution has been drafted that considers two dates– including the Sunday before the holiday to “coincide with the parade,” Cohen said.
City leaders are also considering “sharing the Indigenous People’s Day” with the Italian community by co-designating it as “Italian American Heritage day,” she said.