San Francisco

North Beach Italian-Americans Protest Columbus Day Renaming

Members of San Francisco's Italian-American community gathered at City Hall yesterday to protest last week's decision by the Board of Supervisors to rename Columbus Day.

The Board voted 10-1 to designate the second Monday in October as "Indigenous Peoples Day." District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents the historically Italian-American North Beach neighborhood, was the lone dissenting vote. 

The Coalition of Italian American Organizations (CIAO) led the protest; organizers accused District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen, who introduced the legislation, of making an "apparent back-room deal" to strip Columbus' name from the holiday.

Members of CIAO said there was no outreach to the Italian-American community before the measure was passed. Additionally, members of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe were not asked to participate in discussions either, the group claimed.

"This secretive and exclusive maneuver was in clear violation of San Francisco’s established policy of transparency and open government," concluded CIAO in a statement.

Columbus Avenue in North Beach. | Photo: Old_Glory/Flickr

While members of the coalition protested to bring awareness, they were not asking the Board to reverse its decision.

Instead, CIAO proposes that the second vote, a procedural requirement, be tabled until the "Italian Community, the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, and other stakeholders can be given an opportunity to voice their respective opinions on the matter."

Via email, CIAO representative and San Francisco Italian Athletic Club board member Nickolas Marinelli said his group is mindful of the impacts colonialism had on Native Americans and is in talks with the Ohlone tribe concerning the matter. 

"We find it incomprehensible that the Muwekma Ohlone—who for thousands of years inhabited the land we now call San Francisco—were excluded from discussions prior to the Supervisors’ vote," Marinelli said. 

According to Marinelli, the Ohlone proposed renaming the holiday after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, but Monica V. Arellano, vice chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area, said that's incorrect.

"The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe has taken a formal stance supporting efforts to change the traditional Columbus Day celebration and in its stead formally recognize, honor and commemorate Indigenous Peoples Day," a statement from the Tribe reads.

To acknowledge historical and cultural contributions made by Italian-Americans and others, the Muwekema Ohlone have proposed naming the day after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, "the first person to recognize North and South America as distinct continents that were previously unknown to Europeans, Asians and Africans."

In North Beach, responses to the protest were mixed. On Facebook, many decried Columbus' colonialism, while others criticized the Board for failing to address persistent quality-of-life issues like clean streets and Washington Square Park's rat infestation.

Some members of the North Beach News Facebook group characterized the renaming as discriminatory towards Italian-Americans, while others suggested filing a lawsuit against the city. 

Statue of Columbus on Telegraph Hill. | Photo: Andrés Gómez García/Flickr

Others neighbors said, however, that the Italian-American community will find a better historical representative to celebrate their heritage. 

The Indigenous People's holiday was first introduced in Berkeley in 1992, and roughly 60 American cities have followed suit, including four states—Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota. 

Citywide, North Beach

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