Columbus Day debate gets local

Eve Crandall and Eve Crandall

In recent years, the celebration of Columbus Day has been questioned due to widespread awareness of the violence that Christopher Columbus inflicted. Just this year, Los Angeles and Portland, ME, have opted instead to celebrate “Indigenous People’s Day,” in an effort to shift the focus of the celebration to the populations that Columbus and others decimated.
The way things are going, Columbus Day may become a thing of the past. But Westfield seems to be headed in the opposite direction.
On Sunday, the Italian American Club of Westfield and Westfield UNICO, an Italian-American service organization, are sponsoring Westfield’s first Columbus Day Parade. WHS Assistant Principal Mr. James DeSarno will be the grand marshall of the parade, which begins at 10 a.m. in the parking lot of the south side train station.
“We decided to pursue it this year and thought that with all the attacks on Columbus, we wanted to do something to show all the positive contributions [he made],” said Mr. Robert Tarte, president of Westfield UNICO. “It will be good for the community as well as our group.”
Despite these intentions, the parade has been met with controversy. “It is beyond inappropriate that the vice principal of WHS is participating in a parade celebrating one of the most horrific men in American history, in this year of political turmoil,” said senior Dexter Cypress.
But other WHS students are in favor of the parade. “This parade goes beyond Columbus Day,” said senior Gianna Ricerca. “It gives Italian-Americans the opportunity to come together and celebrate their heritage.”
DeSarno declined to comment, although Tarte addressed the controversy. “I don’t think we can erase history—history is what it is, he did some bad things,” Tarte said. “But many of our heroes today like Jefferson and Washington had slaves and did things that we abhor today. We honor the good things.”
Still, some aren’t satisfied with this rationale. It’s clear that parade or not, Columbus Day is open for debate, including in Westfield.
“There’s a difference between erasing history and not celebrating evil,” said senior Noah Plotkin. “You can acknowledge history without celebrating it.”