Today marks Columbus Day in RI, a federal holiday honoring Italian icon and explorer Christopher Columbus, credited with discovering the Americas, slavery and other atrocities, a litmus test of communities’ focus on either historic fact or romance.
Columbus, who landed on an island in the Bahamas in 1492, has long enjoyed a reputation as an Italian-American icon of exploration, focusing solely on the exploits that began colonization of the continent and ultimately, the United States, according to an examination of the explorer’s cultural import in TIME Magazine. Columbus was Italian immigrants’ armor against discrimination in the 1800s and early 1900s. “For Italians, a group facing discrimination, promoting Columbus’ Italian origins was a way to “assimilate better,” as Dunbar-Ortiz puts it to TIME.”
But the explorer’s popular image has recently been tempered with the full historic record, which includes Columbus’s participation in slavery, forced conversion of natives to Christianity and introduction of diseases indigenous people had no defenses against.
In recent years, some states and communities have replaced the holiday with Indigenous Peoples Day, a switch envisioned in 1977, at a U.N. conference in Geneva, Switzerland, to counter discrimination against indigenous populations in the Americas, according to the Unitarian Universalist Association.
In 2019, Google’s icon doodle did not link to a frank history of Columbus’s exploratory deeds, but rather to a page celebrating the scientific contributions of Belgian physicist and mathematician Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau. This year, Google’s usual icon is unchanged.
Seventeen states — including Washington, South Dakota and Maine — as well as Washington, D.C., have holidays honoring Native Americans, some of which are on the second Monday in October, according to the Pew Research Center. Nearby, in Massachusetts, some communities celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, though the official state holiday is Columbus Day.
Columbus Day in Rhode Island: What’s Open?
Columbus Day is observed in Rhode Island.
Non-essential government departments are closed, as are many corporations. The U.S. Postal service is closed today, and there will be no regular mail service, Priority Mail Express is delivered 365 days a year and will be delivered on October 9th. Normal delivery and collection schedules will resume Tuesday.
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