On March 2, 2021, Wellesley voters will have the opportunity to vote on a non-binding public opinion advisory question that proposes to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. Wellesley citizens are organizing to defeat this ballot question because it is divisive to our community, disrespectful to Italian Americans, and challenging to scholarship.
When our small grassroots group began working on a compromise proposal for Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day in spring 2019, it was with desire to find a middle ground between two sides of a sensitive politicized issue.
Our original proposal, known as Article 43, was presented to Wellesley's Advisory Committee in February 2020. We proposed that Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day share the second Monday in October as an inclusive observance. This was unacceptable to the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), who find Columbus’s name offensive and hurtful. UAINE did not want to share the day, nor did we want to give it up.
At Wellesley's June 2020 Annual Town Meeting, we presented an amended proposal for Article 43: a two-day compromise to change the name of Columbus Day to Italian American Heritage Day and to observe a new day for Native Americans in November, during national Native American Heritage Month. With less than a week for outreach to Town Meeting Members (TMMs) and the public, Article 43 garnered an impressive 41% positive vote. The idea of a two-day solution appealed to many TMMs, their votes signifying respect for Wellesley’s Italian American community. Had we presented at October Special Town Meeting as originally planned, it has been said that Article 43 would have won. After two years of outreach by the World of Wellesley, Article 42 garnered a 63% positive vote at June ATM. Hence, their proposal will be on the ballot at the March annual Town election.
Christopher Columbus has been villainized by the late Professor Howard Zinn, a self-identified Marxist. Zinn’s flawed polemic, A Peoples History of the United States (1980), disparages the great navigator and serves as the cornerstone of revisionist American history. Professor Sam Wineburg, a researcher in history education at Stanford University, criticized Zinn’s methodology, as follows: "Zinn’s desire to cast a light on what he saw as historic injustice was a crusade built on secondary sources of questionable provenance, omission of exculpatory evidence, leading questions and shaky connections between evidence and conclusions." (Stanford | News. December 20, 2012)
Stanford University Professor Carol Delaney’s book Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem (2011) and Dr. Mary Grabar’s book Debunking Howard Zinn (2019) provide balanced, well-researched scholarship on Columbus. To make an informed decision in March, we encourage voters to educate themselves on Columbus’s story over the coming months. See also Professor Delaney's letter to the Wellesley Board of Selectmen.
Let’s also consider the history behind the federal holiday on the second Monday in October. Columbus Day was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937 in response to lobbying efforts by and for Italian Americans. Columbus’s name was selected for the new holiday, as the Italian navigator was a revered historical figure then, much admired for his 1492 voyage. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush and Congress declared October national Italian American Heritage Month to align with the Columbus Day holiday. The observance of Columbus Day and the celebration of Italian American heritage have been inseparable in U.S. history, since its first national observance in 1892.
Efforts to compromise with the World of Wellesley (WOW) have been divisive. As the African proverb says, “When the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” The WOW dismissed an African American woman from its newly formed Black Lives Matter chapter within 24 hours of her speaking up in opposition to Article 42 at June Annual Town Meeting. She was also attacked on social media by WOW supporters for expressing support for the advantages of Article 43. Has “cancel culture” arrived in Wellesley?
The World of Wellesley serves as the voice for UAINE, the outside special interest group behind the campaign for Indigenous Peoples Day in Massachusetts cities and towns. WOW states that their purpose in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is “to make Wellesley a more welcoming community.” Wellesley already is a welcoming community and a multicultural one, too. Abolishing Columbus Day would be offensive and hurtful to our town’s large Italian American community by making Wellesley less welcoming to them. The most recent U.S. Census data shows 28 persons self-identifying as Native Americans in Wellesley.
Columbus Day is also divisive among Italian Americans. The group “Italian Americans for Indigenous Peoples Day” was established to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. Former WOW President Michelle Chalmers is co-founder of this group. The “Italian American Alliance,” which celebrates Italian American heritage, supports keeping Columbus Day intact.
Our efforts represent the people of Wellesley. We do not speak for outside special interest groups or political organizations. We are committed to defeating this divisive non-binding question at the March election. Its defeat would open the door for a two-day solution - an outcome that respects Italian Americans and honors Native Americans in our community, thereby strengthening Wellesley’s commitment to multiculturalism.
Committee to Preserve Wellesley's Italian American Heritage