The Revere Human Rights Commission (HRC) voted unanimously at its meeting last Thursday to recommend to the mayor and City Council that the city, “Replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day and at the same time find another day during the month of October to celebrate Italian heritage day.”
Although there was an item on the evening’s agenda labeled, “Columbus Day-Indigenous Peoples Day,” it gave no inkling that the HRC would be moving forward with a recommendation that the city replace the former with the latter, let alone that the Revere Italian-American community’s traditional exercises and parade would need to “find” another day to commemorate Italian-American heritage and culture, a tradition that has been observed on Columbus Day in Revere by six generations of the city’s Italian-American community spanning 80 years.
Even at the start of the discussion on the agenda item, it was not apparent that the members were contemplating making a motion at this time.
Chairperson Janine Grillo Marra told her colleagues, “Instead of us just haphazardly putting something together, we have reached out to get support and guidance from the Native American Indian Center of Boston as to what we can do. We’re going to circle back with them in mid-October to do something that is respectful and not tokenizing to the Native American community.”
Marra further added that the purpose of the discussion for the board that evening was, “…to give you an opportunity to ask questions and share your thoughts. We want the community to know that we do not want to impose something that is not happening elsewhere.”
Dr. Lourenco Garcia was the second speaker of the nine other commission members to offer his views on the agenda item. After going through the history of the European conquest of America, Garcia said, “We need to work to establish an Indigenous Peoples Day. It is long overdue. We need to be brave enough to establish a holiday to celebrate the roots of the people who were native to this land. and to celebrate their resistance, their struggle for social justice, and their resilience in the face of their adversity.”
However, Lourenco did not make a motion, or even suggest that a motion was appropriate, at this time.
Other members of the commission then offered their viewpoints on the matter, all of whom echoed their support for the idea of creating an Indigenous Peoples Day. Similarly, there was no indication that the members were of a mind at this time to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
“This is something we need to speak of more in depth and maybe involve others in the city and have more of a deep discussion,” said Police Chief David Callahan.
“I think a greater discussion is necessary and we should have city officials involved,” said member Lynn Alexis. “A deeper level of education must be brought before the city. It needs to be a compassionate conversation.”
The microphone then came to Revere Fire Chief Christopher Bright, “Thank you for your comments,” said Bright. “I agree that this issue is long overdue to be addressed and long-overdue to be righted.”
Bright then abruptly said that he would be in favor of the board making a motion now.
Marra pointed out to her colleagues that the HRC cannot make policy, but only can make recommendations. She then said that she would entertain a motion to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Garcia spoke up and said he too, favored making a motion to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.
When member Kathi Ann Reinstein pointed out that, for Italian-Americans, Columbus Day “…is not about Christopher Columbus, it’s about their culture,” Marra queried, “Do we need to get more public input?”
However, Bright said Marra’s suggestion was not appropriate at this time “because there is a motion on the floor.”
After some back and forth as to whether there should be two motions — one to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day and a second motion to find another day for the Italian-American community to celebrate their heritage — the microphone ultimately went back to Lourenco, who made his motion that included both ideas together.
The motion then passed unanimously.
Another iterm on the agenda concerned whether the commission should recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of its meeting.
All of the members voiced an opinion on the matter, with all of them acknowledging that the pledge, which references God, might be offensive to some members of the community.
In addition, they stated that the words “with liberty and justice for all,” only have been aspirational throughout American history.
“Whatever we do, we should be responsive to every voice in the community and would like to have more time to have a deeper conversation. I would love to hear from the younger generation,” said member Kourou Pich.
At the conclusion of the discussion about the Pledge of Allegiance, Marra said, “This is an important conversation and we’ll continue to have it.”
However, the board did not take a formal vote on the issue.
In other matters, the members praised the recent Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression Training that was attended by the commissioners.
Marra informed her colleagues that the HRC is exploring a collaboration with RevereTV about the possibility of having a monthly show regarding a specific topic. The commissioners gave their ideas about possible topics for the show.
The next meeting of the Human Rights Commission is scheduled for Thursday, November 4.