Photo: Commission for Social Justice® Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America®
Nearly 20 million proud Americans claim Italian heritage. But a few out-of-touch United States senators have suggested we leave them behind and drop the Columbus Day holiday of the great explorer, now smeared and defamed like victims of McCarthyism in a campaign of lies not seen since the great Salem witch hunts. I am not the first to say that as Italian Americans, we understand the pain and injustice of discrimination. For five generations, our people have felt its sting and endured its stain. It continues today with the defilement of our statues so intertwined with our identity and our faith. America can honor Columbus, Washington, Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.---and recognize indigenous people and Juneteenth. Let us not exclude and tear down, but unite and build up. Let us drop the hate and seek the truth. And let us start today with the misguided senators in Washington, D.C. Please contact your senators from your state and the two prime sponsors of this disastrous proposal, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) and SenatorJames Lankford(R-Oklahoma) at: www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
Angelo Vivolo President Columbus Heritage Coalition
Commission for Social Justice®
Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America®
219 E Street, N.E. | Washington, D.C. 20002
(202) 547-2900 | (202) 546-8168 (FAX) | www.osia.org
July 2, 2020
Senator Ron Johnson
328 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Senator James Lankford
316 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Sen. Johnson and Sen. Lankford:
On behalf of the Commission for Social Justice, the anti-defamation arm of the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America (OSDIA), I would like to express our outrage that you have proposed an amendment to replace the federal Columbus Day holiday with Juneteenth. OSDIA is the largest organization of Italian Americans. Our mission is to promote the Italian culture, heritage, and contributions that our ancestors have made to this great country and the world. We are shocked that the Senate is considering the implementation of any measure that marginalizes our holiday and our heritage.
Since 1937, Columbus Day has been a federally recognized holiday—something that our organization fought hard to achieve. For Italian Americans, as well as other immigrant groups, who came over as oppressed masses in the early 20th century, it was Columbus who served as their champion and gave them hope of a new life, one with opportunity. Thus, for Americans of Italian descent, Columbus Day serves as an opportunity to celebrate our ancestors and the struggles they overcame to assimilate into American culture. It is unjust to take away the symbol of their very identity and the contributions they have made since the early 1900s. In doing so, you are choosing one ethnic group over another—which is the ultimate insult to both groups.
We are in full support of recognizing African Americans, and in fact, we already do so in observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Why must further recognition replace Columbus Day? With only 12 recognized federal holidays that leaves 353 possible days for the United States to further recognize the struggles of African Americans. Though we are in full support of this, it is equally unjust to take away from Italian Americans a day that represents their roots, history and contributions to this country. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., himself, expressed these sentiments best when he stated: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We at the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America believe in diversity and tolerance by Addition, not by Subtraction or Substitution. In 1992, Italian Americans were declared a protected minority by Federal Judge Constance Motley Baker in a lawsuit brought against the City University of New York (Scelsa v. CUNY). Judge Baker found evidence of blatant discrimination against Italian Americans, and we have used this ruling against those that attack our community—including our holiday. We will use this ruling in the future.
Ethnic groups should NOT be pitted against each other, and proposing to replace Columbus Day with Juneteenth does exactly that.
I urge you and the United States Senate to recognize the struggles of African Americans on a day that doesn’t replace Columbus Day as a federal holiday.
Robert M. Ferrito
President, Commission for Social Justice
Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America
CC: Nancy DiFiore Quinn, National President, Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America
Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America Supreme Council
Commission for Social Justice Board of Directors, Voting Members, and Resource Persons