In this op-ed, Teen Vogue’s Lucy Diavolo argues that, out of respect for Indigenous Peoples Day, Italian-Americans eager to celebrate their heritage should replace October’s Columbus Day with Sacco and Vanzetti Day on August 23.
Teen Vogue, October 14, 2019
Today is Indigenous Peoples Day, the holiday that celebrates the peoples and cultures who thrived before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the murderous, enslaving explorer who is frequently (and many say incorrectly) credited as the first European to “discover” the Americas. While there is still a federal holiday called Columbus Day, in recent years, the day has been rightly supplanted by Indigenous Peoples Day in order to celebrate the people who already called the Americas home before Columbus’s 1492 landfall.
Despite this, Columbus is still championed by many Italian-Americans eager to see themselves as part of the tapestry of U.S. history. But I think they’d be better served lionizing another set of controversial Italians: Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a pair of immigrant anarchists who were executed after a controversial trial amidst a wave of anti-Italian, anti-immigrant sentiment in the early 20th century.
A 1927 article from The Atlantic written by Felix Frankfurter, who was later appointed to the Supreme Court by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939, laid out how Sacco and Vanzetti’s case was mishandled. Accused of murdering two men during a 1920 payroll robbery, the duo’s imperfect grasp of the English language made their 1921 trial difficult; they reportedly misunderstood questions and their testimonies were hard to understand. Dozens of witnesses testified on both sides (some with accounts more dubious than others), alibis were presented, and questions were raised about police conduct.