The effort to replace Columbus Day with Francis Xavier Cabrini Day won preliminary approval from the state House last week but not without a strong fight from opponents.
House Bill 1031, sponsored by Reps. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Denver, and Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn, would honor the Italian-born Catholic nun who operated the Queen of Heaven orphanage in Denver and a summer camp for girls that is now the home of the Mother Cabrini Shrine.
It’s Benavidez’ third attempt to get rid of the Columbus Day holiday.
“I know some people feel strongly about retaining it,” but some of the things Columbus did were despicable at best, Benavidez said during debate on Feb. 12. He met indigenous people in what’s now known as the Dominican Republic, but never set foot in the United States, Benavidez said.
There are just three holidays that honor people: Columbus Day, Presidents’ Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The presidents and King had a direct connection to the United States. Columbus does not, she said.
“Let’s celebrate the values we aspire to, the values that Mother Cabrini embodied, rather than debating year after year someone who represents tragedy to many Coloradans,” Mullica said.
Eleven states have removed Columbus Day, Benavidez said, adding that the Italian community, also tired of the years of fighting over the issue, came to her with a compromise to honor Mother Cabrini.
Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, said that as a Catholic he would prefer a separate holiday in her honor.
“I’m not a fan of revisionist history, and can’t wash away the history of this country, with the good, bad and ugly,” he said. Holtorf lauded Columbus’ skills as a sailor, and Columbus’ plans to prove that the world is not flat. (That’s a fact that is disputed by historians.)
“Columbus had the American spirit,” Holtorf said. “Columbus did not come here to harm Native Americans, but we’re blaming him if we move this bill forward.”
Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, said he found it offensive to name a holiday after a Catholic saint, one who neither was born nor died in Colorado. If the goal is to rename the holiday for a woman, why not Chipeta, Chief Ouray’s wife, the first to be invited to a council of Ute Indians, or Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister who went to high school in Denver, he asked.
“This bill is troublesome on another scale, the revision of history” as well, Soper said.
Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, said that under that standard, “I would still be in chains. We would still hunt Native Americans. We as a state would not have admitted the atrocities at Sand Creek.”
A modern society admits its wrongs and resolves them, he said. This is a bill of compassion. He said he has listened to Native American children in committee hearings who have to celebrate someone who had a negative impact on their lives.
The bill is scheduled for a final vote on Tuesday.