Some Italian-American activists in Seattle say they’re forming a political-action committee to strike back at members of the City Council who voted unanimously Monday to recognize an Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same date as Columbus Day.
They say the council members disrespected Seattle’s 25,000 Italian-American residents when they picked Columbus Day rather than another date.
Some Native-American activists, backed by the Seattle Human Rights Commission and more than 30 other organizations, had asked for an Indigenous Peoples’ Day on that date to recall the harm inflicted on their ancestors by Europeans such as Christopher Columbus.
“We empathize with the death and destruction of the Native Americans,” activist Ralph Fascitelli said Thursday during a news conference at Il Terrazzo Carmine, an Italian restaurant in Pioneer Square. “But we think right now this is almost going too far in terms of political correctness.”
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Columbus Day, named for the Italian-born explorer who reached the Americas in 1492, is an official federal holiday on the second Monday of October, falling this year on Oct. 13.
For decades, it’s been marked by a celebration of Italian-American history and culture, a significant holiday in many parts of the country. (It’s been a federal holiday since 1937). But it isn’t an official Seattle holiday, nor an official Washington state holiday.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is planning to sign Indigenous Peoples’ Day into law on Monday. The legislation will honor local Native-American tribes but won’t create an official city holiday with free curbside parking and days off for municipal workers.
Murray says Indigenous Peoples’ Day will add new significance to the date without replacing the Columbus Day tradition. And the text of the bill doesn’t malign Columbus.
But Fascitelli, president of the Seattle-based gun-control advocacy organization Washington Cease Fire, says the council needlessly irked Italian Americans.
There already is a federal day to commemorate Native Americans, the Italian-American activists noted. Signed into law by President George W. Bush, it’s called Native American Heritage Day and it falls on the day after Thanksgiving. The Italian ambassador to the United States, Claudio Bisogniero, wrote to Murray last month to express his concern.
The new political committee will lobby City Hall to establish an official Italian-American heritage day in Seattle and to move Indigenous Peoples’ Day to another date. It will support political candidates who agree and oppose those who don’t.
“We say today, ‘Basta!’ We say, ‘Enough.’ We say, ‘No more discrimination.’ Not now and not here,” Fascitelli said. “We’re talking about an aggressive pushback program.”
The activists at Il Terrazzo singled out Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who on Monday said Columbus played a “pivotal role in the worst genocide humankind has ever known” and suggested that Italian Americans celebrate Italian-American social-justice activists rather than the explorer.
The council is moving to district-based representation for its next election, in 2015, and money the political committee spends on candidates will carry weight, Fascitelli says.
He says Italian-American business leaders like Seattle restaurateur Gerard Centioli are ready to open their pocketbooks.
“The failure of the city of Seattle to recognize our national holiday is an act of omission that local Italian Americans have never understood. But we also have never complained,” Centioli said Thursday. “Replacing our holiday with another is an act of commission that we will not let stand.”
Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or firstname.lastname@example.org