Celebrating Italian Americans in Baltimore

Over Thanksgiving, I had the chance to share a meal with friends in Baltimore City. As we finished our food and were imbibing good conversation and egg nog, a friend read aloud a headline published in The Baltimore Sun: "City Council moves to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples and Italian-Americans Day." This was not surprising to me; I became aware of the proposal in October when I received a sponsored Facebook post in which Councilman Brandon Scott published his plan. But it was still upsetting.

In recent decades, many groups have called for the eradication of Columbus Day and its replacement with a new holiday. While I agree that sacrifices and tragedies incurred by native and Indigenous people during the colonization of our continent deserve remembrance, we must also recognize the importance of Columbus Day as a stand-alone holiday in celebrating the heritage of the many thousands of Italian-Americans who have made significant contributions to our beloved Baltimore.


I remained at the table as my friends began to clear dishes and move on to other topics of conversation. I was lost in thought. Deep down, I began to feel ill. It wasn't the second helping of green bean casserole bothering me. It was the arrogance of the Baltimore City Council that each day seems to move toward a goal of becoming a vacuous echo chamber of legislative ineptitude. The Orwellian quality of their newest proposal is appalling. With it, the council is essentially stating: "All people are created equal, but some people are more equal than others." The Sun cited the whims of a group of middle school children as Councilman Scott's inspiration for snatching a day of celebration from one ethnic group in order to split it with another, which he apparently feels is more deserving.

In 2013, the American Community Survey estimated Baltimore City's Italian-American population to be approximately 16,500. These Italian-Americans are and were integral to Baltimore's history. Today, many of them own and run thriving businesses in Little Italy and elsewhere, significantly contributing to the local economy. One prominent Italian-American from Baltimore, Nancy Pelosi, went on to be elected as the only female speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Ms. Pelosi is also the daughter of Baltimore's first Italian-American (and first Catholic) mayor, Thomas D'Alesandro Jr.


The 12-2 preliminary vote in favor of diminishing Baltimore's rich Italian-American history is very disappointing. Perhaps the City Council's recent action is a continuation of the pattern of hate Italian-Americans have faced in America over the past two centuries. The largest mass lynching in U.S. history was of 11 Italian-Americans in New Orleans, La., in 1891. Democrat John Parker, the lynch mob organizer, famously described Italian-Americans saying they were: "just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in [their] habits, lawless and treacherous."

Maybe the oppression of minority ethnic groups by the Democratic Party isn't taught to the students at City Neighbors School, Councilman Scott's muse for this proposal. What about the persistent negative stereotyping of Italian-Americans in television and film, or the link between anti-Italianism and anti-Catholicism?

An amendment to the original Indigenous Peoples' Day bill called for the insertion of "and Italian Americans." It wasn't there originally. Councilman Scott calls this a "compromise down the middle." The afterthought addition is not a compromise. It's an insult.

Here's a compromise: rename Columbus Day as Italian Americans' Day and establish a new holiday solely for the purpose of honoring indigenous people. I recommend May for the new holiday, six months after Native American Heritage Month (November), to promote year-round remembrance. This compromise re-writes Columbus out of American history (the intent of the original bill), and celebrates both Italian-Americans and indigenous people without diminishing either group. Will the council be willing to sponsor this common sense amendment before its final vote, scheduled for Monday? Don't hold your breath. Lately, common sense has been a rare sighting there; emotionally charged rhetoric runs rampant.

If they continue unabated on this trek to idiocracy, what will be next on their legislative agenda? Many groups have called for Thanksgiving to be renamed to "National Day of Mourning" to recognize the destruction the pilgrims brought to America. Councilman Scott has already taken aim at Italian-Americans; next will he come after the thankful?

Charlene Cowan is a member of the Baltimore City Republican Central Committee; her email is