DENVER – Lawmakers fielded another attempt to remove Columbus Day as a state holiday Wednesday at the state Legislature.
House Bill 1327, which would eliminate Columbus Day as a state holiday and replaces it with a floating holiday in October for state employees, was passed by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Wednesday on a 6-3 party line vote with the GOP voting to maintain the holiday.
A similar piece of legislation, which would have renamed the holiday as Indigenous People’s Day just as Durango and Fort Lewis College did in 2016, was killed by the same committee last year on a 7-2 vote because of concerns it maligned Italian Americans.
HB 1327 would bring the state more in line with what has been done locally with the added twist of the moving day off, which must be approved by the employer.
Three other states, Alaska, South Dakota and Vermont, as well as a list of cities, including Denver and Boulder, do not observe Columbus Day as a holiday.
In an attempt to avoid last year’s stumbling block, the bill includes a mention that it should not be seen as a slight to the Italian American community.
Despite that, the debate over HB 1327 included the blemish it placed on Italian Americans by removing a day which to some has become synonymous with their contributions to the country.
“Columbus is to us is the biggest influence as an Italian American to our country,” said Dominic LoSasso, president of the Denver chapter of the Sons of Italy.
There was also debate over the historical record and the process historical study has gone through since the introduction of alternative viewpoints, such as those of female and minority scholars, following the Civil Rights movement.
Opponents of the bill said that historians place too much blame on Columbus for what was done by those who came with him on his expedition and the later generations of colonizers, and questioned the credibility of the information used in the bill’s legislative declaration.
A pair of professors spoke in favor of the bill and pointed to the construction of a mythology around Christopher Columbus that does not account for the viewpoint of indigenous peoples.
Glenn Morris, associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado, said the story that is typically taught in classrooms is “the view from the ship. There’s a view from the shore that is never taught.”
Roger Green, a professor of English at Metropolitan State University, said the mythology surrounding Columbus draws heavily from the scholarship of Washington Irving.
“Irving’s project was to construct an American National identity in a similar way the Brothers Grimm sought (to) establish a German identity,” Green said. “But as we increasingly need to be aware in an age of ‘post truth’ and ‘fake news,’ folklore is not history.”
The bill heads to the House Local Government Committee for consideration.