Santa Clara says goodbye to Columbus Day
The Santa Clara City Council is pictured in this file photo.

Santa Clara leaders Tuesday night praised the City Council for voting to ditch Columbus Day and instead celebrate a day that highlights indigenous people and cultures.

“We’re particularly happy and proud that our task force was able to make this recommendation while also acknowledging another thing that we saw in our surveys,” said Neil Datar, chair of the city’s Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, “which is the role Columbus Day plays in terms of Italian American heritage.”

The Santa Clara City Council voted unanimously in December to approve a recommendation to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day on Oct. 2 based on a recommendation from the city’s Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The task force’s recommendation to the council was unanimous and came on the heels of a city-sponsored survey that found 54% of respondents supported swapping out Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Councilmember Raj Chahal suggested the idea and said he was happy to see it move forward because it’s time to correct the historical record when new evidence comes to light.

“We all make mistakes, but correcting those mistakes is what matters,” Chahal told San José Spotlight.

President Franklin Roosevelt designated Columbus Day a national holiday in 1934. The first documented observance was on Oct. 12, 1792 to recognize the day Christopher Columbus’ ships first spotted North American land, supposedly discovering America.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a holiday that emerged out of the Indigenous Civil Rights Movement. The holiday aims to increase the visibility of Native American tribes and awareness of the genocide upon which the U.S. was built. An increasing number of state and local governments have begun recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day alongside or instead of Columbus Day. President Joe Biden was the first president to officially acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day last October.

Locally, San Jose decided to stop celebrating the day in 2020. Three years earlier, the city booted a statue of Columbus from inside San Jose City Hall after receiving a petition for its removal from the San Jose Brown Berets. San Jose’s Italian American Heritage Foundation opposed the idea.

Santa Clara received similar requests to stop celebrating Columbus Day and recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. That led to a survey conducted between October and November that revealed more than half of the 815 respondents wanted to stop observing Columbus Day and recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. About 28% wanted to celebrate both, while 17% wanted to stick with Columbus Day without observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

People who supported maintaining the status quo said the holiday was intended to celebrate Italian heritage and not observing it would be the equivalent of rewriting history.

Datar said the task force wants to reinforce its commitment to find new ways to celebrate all the cultures within the city.

Councilmember Kevin Park said it’s important to keep an open mind when making these decisions, but he said it’s important to prioritize the people who are most impacted, even if they are a minority.

“There are very few political decisions that you can make where everyone’s happy,” Park told San José Spotlight. “In fact, that’s impossible.”

Contact Sonia Waraich at [email protected] or follow @soniawaraich on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story inaccurately reported a vote to eliminate Columbus Day would happen Tuesday. The vote occurred in December, and the council recapped the issue on Tuesday.

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