New Jersey Republican lawmakers push to keep Columbus Day a federal and state holiday

Columbus Circle
A statue of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sits atop a 27.5-foot-tall granite rostral column in Columbus Circle on Jan. 14, 2018. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

Republican lawmakers in New Jersey want to make sure Columbus Day remains a federal and state holiday.

The day, observed on Oct. 11 this year, is an annual celebration of Italian American heritage.

New Jersey Sens. Joe Pennacchio and Senator Anthony M. Bucco are sponsoring Senate Resolution 50 supporting the preservation of Columbus Day as a federal and state holiday.

“We’re talking about a holiday that Italian-Americans value very much, and it is important to preserve it for future generations,” Pennacchio, R-26, said in an announcement. “There are extremists who seek to revise history, to tear up the past and rewrite it to fit a new narrative. The fact is that the second Christopher Columbus stepped on to our shores, it was an existential moment in human history. It marked the end of the old world and the beginning of the new.

“Our resolution would defend Columbus Day from future attempts to bleach it out of the nation’s fabric,” Pennacchio added. “This bill was first introduced in 2017. My colleagues march in Columbus Day parades, they pursue the Italian American vote, but they have been unwilling to defend this holiday.  I don’t see any reason why this resolution has not received enthusiastic support from the Legislature.”

Recently, dozens of Columbus statues have been removed in cities across the nation, including Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, and Chester, Pa. Only a judge’s decision prevented the planned razing of a Christopher Columbus likeness that has stood for 144 years in a park in Philadelphia.

“As a proud Italian-American, I know how cherished Columbus Day is by those of us who have family roots back to Italy,” Bucco, R-25, said in an annoucnement. “The Columbus holiday and the granite busts are as much or more tributes to the contribution of Italian immigrants to American society as to Christopher Columbus the man. When Italians emigrated here, they faced a gauntlet of challenges. They were forced to endure prejudice and hatred, and to work twice as hard to prove themselves in the workplace and the community.”

Earlier this year, Bucco spearheaded a successful effort to prevent a local school district from replacing Columbus Day on the school calendar with Indigenous People’s Day. The Randolph Township board of education voted to approve the change in May, joining a half-dozen states and many municipalities.

The Senator, who represents Randolph, spoke at the board meeting in June as the school board voted to remove all holiday names from the calendar in response to an onslaught of complaints from the public. After a boisterous meeting that lasted almost four hours, the panel adopted a motion to restore the calendar to the way it was, reinstating Columbus Day.

“Their attempt to address diversity backfired, and instead created division,” Bucco said. “By trying to make everything vanilla, you lose that sense of diversity. Nobody benefits by destroying a legacy. Progress is made only when we all advance together.

“I am humbled to continue the work of my father, the late Senator Bucco, who sponsored the bill designating every October as Italian-American Heritage Month and fought to fund Italian American heritage cultural and educations programs for the state’s school children,” Bucco added.

Pennacchio cited the history behind the holiday day, noting that the first Columbus Day was declared by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892, the year after a mob of thousands lynched 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans and on the 400th anniversary of the explorer’s voyage in search of a direct route from Europe to Asia.

“We all need to realize there are prejudices in our society – prejudices against everybody,” Pennacchio said. “We have to be cautious not to polarize our nation by targeting one group to elevate another.

“Instead of trying to erase and re-write history, we should focus on challenging ourselves to create a better history for ourselves and our future generations,” Pennacchio added.

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Sightseers’ Delight started publishing in June 2016. The site, published by The DeFeo Groupe, collects and curates content about places where historical events large and small happened. The site builds off the legacy of The Travel Trolley, which launched in June 2009. The site aimed to be a virtual version of the trolley tours offered in so many cities.