On Monday night, the Board of Alders met to discuss concerns over the Board of Education’s redesignation of Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day and unanimously voted to establish Italian Heritage Day as an official city holiday on the second Monday of October.
Local community members and activists around the country have long called for the renaming of Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, claiming that the national holiday is an erasure of historical violence against Native Americans. In June, the BOE renamed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day –– however, they did not seek input from the alders or the public.
But the Italian-American community, which sees Columbus as the original Italian immigrant to the Americas, has traditionally celebrated its culture and identity on Columbus Day. The decision to redesignate the holiday as Italian Heritage Day in New Haven, alders said on Monday, aims to remove Columbus’ name while maintaining respect for the local Italian-American community.
“A lot of us contacted the Board of Alders to say if you must change it, you must keep the Italian heritage, so I’m glad to hear they did keep it as Italian Heritage Day,” first generation Italian American Francis Calzetta said.
The redesignation comes on the heels of the city’s decision to remove a statue commemorating Christopher Columbus in Wooster Square this June. In a press release immediately after the statue’s removal, Mayor Justin Elicker highlighted that local Italian-American leaders were involved in the decision process to remove the monument. There is now a Wooster Square Monument Committee composed of New Haven community members accepting nominations for the statue’s replacement, of which Calzetta is a member.
“[The monument] should be Italian or Italian-American related,” said Calzetta. “Personally, I would love to see Yale students get involved [in the nominations process] because they have history fresh in their minds.”
Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa, chair of the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee, brought the holiday resolution to the floor in August. Festa noted the importance of the Italian American community in New Haven’s history –– particularly in its growth of the local manufacturing economy and development of world-famous pizzerias in Wooster Square.
The holiday’s redesignation holds particular significance for Festa, who spoke on the resolution in light of her mother’s recent passing. Festa, whose Italian immigrant mother worked for many years in a sweatshop while learning English, thanked the alders for their support. She said the alders were honoring her mother and all Italian immigrants with the name change.
“On Thursday…the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee met, and we would like to favorably recommend this item,” Festa said. “The committee heard from many New Haven residents regarding the importance of this holiday to the city and especially its Italian-American residents.”
Although Festa voted in support of Italian Heritage Day as a local holiday, she and others criticized the BOE for not including community input in its June 22 renaming of Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. She indicated a continued conversation with the BOE was necessary to ensure that policy procedures would be followed in the future.
Similarly, while the Education Committee –– a subcommittee of the Board of Alders –– did not oppose the BOE’s renaming, Education Committee members lamented that the BOE’s procedure did not have an appropriate process to include the perspectives of local community members. The decision was also made without notice to the alders prior to the BOE meeting.
“There was no public hearing on this topic,” Festa said. “And there also seemed to be a possible violation of the rules laid out in Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 7B for open meeting requirements.”
Executive Order 7B requires cities to allow public viewing of and comment on any municipal meeting. In the case of the June meeting, the BOE did not notify the alders of their decision to rename Columbus Day.
Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola underscored the need for consistent coordination between the alders and the BOE. DeCola said that city organizations needed to be aligned in their calendars and holiday designations.
“We must be united in what we’re doing, all across our city,” DeCola said.
The alders’ resolution to place their criticism of the BOE into the public record was passed unanimously Monday night, in an effort to encourage greater public consideration and coordination with the alders in the future.
The Board of Alders meets biweekly via Zoom on Monday evenings.
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