Christopher Columbus’ holiday is gone from the Spokane calendar, but the City Council is suggesting another way to celebrate Italian heritage.
City Councilwoman Amber Waldref will forward a proposal Monday to proclaim Oct. 1 each year as “Italian-American Heritage Day” following the contentious decision in August to rename the second Monday of October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
“It’s not meant to replace Columbus Day,” said Waldref, who worked with the American Italian Club of Spokane to create the new observance. “Columbus Day still exists federally. This is a day for Spokane, that’s significant for Italian Americans in Spokane.”
The council will vote on the proposal at its meeting Monday night.
The Oct. 1 date is significant to the club, as it marks the 50th anniversary of its establishment in Spokane. The city also will formalize its sister city relationship with Cagli, Italy, on that day, at the end of a downtown celebration of the American Italian Club’s history in Spokane, said Ron Anselmo, the club’s president.
Anselmo said members felt jilted by the Columbus Day renaming, having been notified just days before the council was scheduled to vote.
“It was really a kick in the teeth,” Anselmo said.
Waldref, who reached out to the group a few weeks ago to discuss options, said the City Council could have coordinated the renaming better by involving those Spokane residents of Italian heritage sooner in the renaming conversation.
“I think we could have brought people together in dialogue in a better way,” she said.
After nearly two hours of testimony in August – mostly from members of area Native American tribes – the City Council voted 6-1 to change the Columbus Day name, joining Seattle and other cities nationwide. Parking is free on the Columbus Day holiday, but city employees are required to work. Federal employees have the day off.
The month of October has been traditionally declared “Italian-American Heritage Month” by presidential proclamation since 1989, when President George H.W. Bush signed the first order recognizing the contributions not only of Columbus, but also artist Michelangelo, the poet Dante and New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio.
The Spokane resolution mentions Joseph Cataldo, the Jesuit priest credited with founding Gonzaga University, and Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who gave America its name. It does not mention Columbus.
Waldref said the language of the resolution was provided by the American Italian Club, and called her conversations with the group “a learning experience.”
City Council President Ben Stuckart, who made the Columbus Day name change proposal and read from the explorer’s journal describing sex slavery before voting on the proposal, said he would support the new day.
City Councilman Mike Fagan, the only vote against renaming Columbus Day, also said he’d support Waldref’s proposal. But he said it appeared as though the council was “making amends” for August’s vote and that there were more pressing priorities for city government, like passing a budget for 2017.
“There are a lot more important things we could probably be thinking about,” Fagan said.
Recognizing historically underprivileged groups, whether through proclamations, resolutions or ceremonies, is an important function of city government, Waldref said.
“I think it’s important to listen to our constituents, to hear all voices in our community and recognize those voices,” she said.
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