The annual Columbus Day Parade returned to New York City on Monday after being canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Marching bands and floats traveled up Fifth Avenue as spectators waved green, white and red Italian flags. Organizers said 35,000 marchers took part in the parade and tens of thousands more watched.
Billed as the nation’s largest celebration of Italian American pride, the Columbus Day Parade has faced criticism in recent years from activists who fault the 15th-century explorer Christopher Columbus for his brutal treatment of Indigenous people in the West Indies.
Some U.S. communities have responded to the controversy by replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
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President Joe Biden on Friday issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which was observed Monday along with Columbus Day.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, attended New York City’s parade. Some spectators booed de Blasio, who will leave office at the end of this year due to term limits. The mayor has in the past promised to update the city's Columbus monuments to include the explorer's violent history toward native groups. He has yet to make any changes howver.
"It doesn't have to be a contradiction. Love Italian Americans, but also acknowledge Native Americans and support them," de Blasio said.
Hochul stressed that the holiday now has new meaning.
"This is Indigenous People's Day, I have a proclamation on that," Hochul said. "But I also want to celebrate relatives, just like mine came from Ireland and many came from Italy, they've made incredible contributions."
While Democratic nominee for NYC Mayor Eric Adams did not attend the parade due to a conflict, as his staff said he marked the holiday over the weekend in Bensonhurst, Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa used it as an opportunity to bash the current administration.
"Did you see de Blasio? I hope you told him to go to hell," Sliwa said to a paradegoer. He said that Adams and de Blasio "are the same."
Columbus was born in the Republic of Genoa, part of modern-day Italy. He sailed from Spain in August 1492 and landed in an island in the Bahamas on Oct. 12 of that year.
Many of the native people of the island were forced into servitude. Multitudes died of disease. Spain repopulated the workforce with African slaves.
The first national Columbus Day was proclaimed in 1892 by Republican President Benjamin Harrison to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas.