LOS ANGELES -- California could soon be the next state to do away with Columbus Day thanks to a bill proposed by Assemblymember Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina).
The Native American Day bill, or AB 55, would replace Columbus Day, which falls on the second Monday in October, with "Native American Day." Assemblymember Hernandez proposed the bill Monday.
Native American Day is already recognized in California. Gov. Ronald Reagan designated the fourth Friday in September for the day of remembrance in 1968, and it became an official state holiday in 1998.
However, neither Columbus Day nor Native American Day are paid state holidays. Columbus Day used to be one for decades, until the recession moved California representatives to eliminate the paid holiday in 2009.
Hernandez's bill would reinstate the paid holiday, which would close down state agencies and give employees a paid day off, but rename it "Native American Day." The September day of remembrance designated by Reagan would no longer be needed.
"We're not trying to rewrite history," said Assemblymember Hernandez in a phone call with The Huffington Post. "We just want to provide recognition and credit to the true discoverers of the land."
When asked about the fact that many Italian-Americans view Columbus Day as a cultural heritage celebration, Assemblymember Hernandez explained that the cultural contributions of an entire community should be viewed separately from the actions of one man.
"Why replace it? That's the day we honor Columbus for discovering the Americas," said Hernandez. "And that's very unfair to the original inhabitants."
He then went on to compare Native American Day to Holocaust Remembrance day.
"When we honor the victims that have suffered from genocide in Germany, it isn't to be anti-German," he explained. "It's to bring proper recognition to people who have suffered and been displaced. This bill is looking to do that for the original settlers in the Americas."
The idea isn't a novel one within California. Local governments in Berkeley, Sebastopol and Santa Cruz have already replaced Columbus Day observances with "Indigenous People's Day." And if Hernandez's bill is signed into law, California will join South Dakota, Hawaii and Alaska as states who do not recognize Columbus Day at all.
AB 55 has already been opposed by State Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton). "As a proud fifth-generation Italian American, I support Columbus Day and the contributions of Italians to California," she said to the Los Angeles Times.
Columbus Day was first formally recognized as a holiday in Colorado in 1905. Ironically, while many in the United States today are suspicious of the holiday's Eurocentric vision of America, the observance was created by Italian immigrants who were desperate to locate their own symbolic importance in a country that portrayed them as outsiders, notes The Atlantic. More, from The Atlantic:
Many Americans believed Italians to be racially inferior, their difference made visible by their "swarthy" or "brown" skins. They were often portrayed as primitive, violent, and unassimilable, and their Catholicism brought them in for further abuse. After an 1891 lynching of Italians in New Orleans, a New York Times editorial proclaimed Sicilians "a pest without mitigation," adding, for good measure, that "our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they."
Italians quickly adopted Columbus as a shield against the ethnic, racial, and religious discrimination they faced in their adoptive country.
Assemblymember Hernandez defended his bill, calling it "inclusive," not "divisive."
"[The bill] doesn't take aim at the cultural contributions of Italian-Americans," insisted Hernandez. "It isn't intended to bring down a community -- just to give recognition and respect to the first inhabitants of this land."