Open Letter to Bill Peduto RE: Columbus Day in Pittsburgh

Dear Bill Peduto,

On October 11, 2015, myself and some members of What’s UP?!, a group focused on challenging racism, ran into you on Liberty Ave in Bloomfield. It was Pittsburgh’s annual Columbus Day Parade. We were protesting the celebration of Columbus Day. You were just coming off the main parade drag with a couple of your associates.

I handed you our brochure and said, “Bill, we have to change the name.”

You said, “I will never change the name. I support this 100%. I support immigrants rights.”

Bill! We support immigrant’s rights too! The thing is, we were really confused that you connect the contemporary immigrant rights movement with honoring Christopher Columbus. Columbus is not the poster child for someone seeking a new life in a new land.  He was a militant arm of colonialism – waging war on people who were already here.

After reading an NPR column, “How Columbus Sailed into History” by Lakshmi Gandhi, it’s interesting to understand that the creation of Columbus day over 100 years ago was an attempt at humanizing Italian Americans who were facing  violence and discrimination by other whites. The year prior to the first Columbus Day, 11 Italians were lynched in New Orleans. An intention behind the holiday was to change the way other European settlers perceived Italians, to see Italian Americans as American Patriots.

Here is a connection with Immigrants Rights. Immigrants from central and south America and from countries all over the world continue to fight to be seen as American Patriots, as citizens and as worthy of even being here.

Bill, were you referencing this history when you justified your participation in the parade by saying you are for immigrants rights? How can we begin to truly honor and celebrate Italian Americans at the same time that we celebrate other cultures and people?

Ghandi’s article goes on to quote historian Matthew Dennis, “Within 50 years of 1492, the Greater Antilles and Bahamas saw their population reduced from an estimated million people to about 500.”  Historians have also credited Columbus as being the creator of the slave trade – “Columbus tore children from their parents, husbands from wives. On board Columbus’ slave ships, hundreds died; the sailors tossed the Indian bodies into the Atlantic. Because Columbus captured more Indian slaves than he could transport to Spain in his small ships, he put them to work in mines and plantations which he, his family, and followers created throughout the Caribbean.” Some of the parade goers approached us inquiring about efforts. They had not heard the history of this violence.

With all we know about Columbus today can we not change our mind and reframe this holiday?

Indigenous people of this nation are asking that our towns and cities ReThink Columbus day. I am asking that you, Bill Peduto, do what you can with your power to honor this request and stop acknowledging, celebrating and participating in this holiday known as Columbus Day.

To change the name of this holiday is to come to terms with the past. To stop perpetuating the myth that Columbus discovered America and brought greatness here. Columbus brutalized America by way of the Bahamas. He never even set foot on this continent.

With Respect,

etta cetera

Member of WHAT’S UP?!

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