GENEVA — Oct. 11 is Columbus Day in the city of Geneva and across the country.
It is not yet Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Geneva too — although a resolution backing the idea was read at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.
Ward 5 Councilor Laura Salamendra read the proclamation at the request of the Community Education for Transformation during her portion of council reports. It was not listed as an agenda item.
There was no formal vote on the matter.
The proclamation has been scorned by members of the city’s Italian-American community, who say it’s unfair to blame the Italian explorer for the misdeeds against Indigenous people of the Americas that followed his landing in what is now the Bahamas on Oct. 12, 1492.
Jess Farrell, a member of the Community Education for Transformation organization, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, reiterating that the group does not want the city to discard Columbus Day, but that we must acknowledge the history connected to the explorer’s arrival in the Americas, an event that set off a dark period for Indigenous cultures.
The word “discovery,” she said, became a doctrine of European countries that deemed non-Christian people of the Americas “non-human” and without rights. However, that does not mean Italian-American heritage should not be celebrated, she emphasized.
“You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about canceling Columbus Day,” she said. “All over the country they are celebrated simultaneously.”
She added: “This proclamation does nothing to stop you unless you are celebrating ‘discovery.’ ”
Tony DiCostanzo, president of Geneva Lodge 2397 of the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America, is among the most vocal opponents of the proclamation. He spoke out in a message to his members and to City Council after learning of the document prior to the meeting.
On Wednesday, he appeared before Council to once again state his opposition.
He questioned such a proclamation following a tumultuous time in Geneva, noting police reform measures that divided City Council and its residents. And, he disputed proponents’ claims that the resolution’s intent is not to replace Columbus Day.
“This proclamation is the opening salvo,” DiCostanzo told Council. “The revisionists (of history) will come back again and again.”
Columbus Day is seen as an acknowledgment of the legitimacy of Italian-Americans, a group DiCostanzo said suffered significant persecution in America.
If Columbus goes, who is next, DiCostanzo asked. He said many of our nation’s most revered figures had shortcomings that we would find unacceptable today — from George Washington, who had slaves, to Lincoln, whose views on race would be out of step in 2021.
We need to “accept the mores of the late 1400s,” but not reject that history, he said. He did, however, say that we need to “reject the cancel culture that has infected America.”
Proclamations — most are of the non-controversial variety — are normally read by Mayor Steve Valentino, who was not in attendance. This one was read by Salamendra. It did not get the endorsement of everyone on Council, including At-Large Councilor Frank Gaglianese III, who said he comes from seven generations of Italian-Americans. He called the proclamation “beyond offensive to myself” and many other Italian-Americans in Geneva and that it only further fuels the rancor among residents.
“Geneva does not need any more division,” Gaglianese said, claiming that a majority of city residents do not support the thrust of the proclamation and the need to have such a day paired with the federal holiday.
He suggested another day to celebrate Indigenous people.
Ward 2 Councilor Bill Pealer Jr. said the issue needs community discussion, but believed Geneva would be an ideal location to celebrate and remember the history of Native Americans in the region. But on another date.