Chances are you’re working today, which happens to be a Monday, unless you’re a local government employee. Because it’s Columbus Day!
Quick question, though: Why do the city of San Jose and Santa Clara County still celebrate Columbus Day? Isn’t Christopher Columbus’ legacy considered more of an unwelcome invasion than a grand “discovery”? Over the years it’s been relegated to a second-tier holiday in which the majority of workers are expected to work, as usual, yet San Jose and its parent county holds fast.
Columbus Day has been called “the strangest of American holidays,” the least-liked and least-respected, a commemoration of an egomaniac who wouldn’t ask for directions and launched a centuries-long chapter of cultural genocide.
While only about a third of organizations close for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day, and 22 percent for Veterans Day, 14 percent still give employees the day off for Columbus Day. Many schoolchildren get the day off as a holiday, forcing parents to scramble to find childcare because they still have to work.
Except for essential city services like police and fire, San Jose’s City Hall is off for the day. Customer service calls will go to voicemail and be handled Tuesday. The call center extends service hours the day after holidays to deal with the higher-than-usual volume of inquires.
But elected officials have it even better than most. Not only do they get today off, they also table regularly scheduled City Council meetings until the following week. Columbus Day festivities—whatever those are—apparently soak up too much agenda study time.
Fortunately for San Jose State University students, who don’t get a break from class, San Jose’s flagship Martin Luther King Jr. Library will remain open. All other city library branches will be closed and resume regular hours Tuesday morning.
Community centers are also closed, and bill payments for things like garbage service can be deposited in a drop box at City Hall’s Sixth and Santa Clara street entrance. But they will not be processed.
As a bone, at least metered parking is free today.
A Mercury News column over the weekend defended Columbus Day, and the statue of the Italian explorer on display in the City Hall lobby, arguing that Italians have had “a profound effect” on the city. But the private sector, schools, state and federal government agencies remain divided about what to do regarding Columbus Day—indicating that the holiday may be on its way out.
Berkeley reinvented the holiday as Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992. Seattle and Minneapolis followed suit this past year. Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska ignore Columbus Day altogether. And for the past 24 years, South Dakota has instead celebrated Native Americans Day.
The statue of Columbus in the City Hall lobby hasn’t stood without controversy either. Thirteen years ago, activist James Cosner smashed it with a sledgehammer in front of a dozen witnesses.
“If you knew the history of Christopher Columbus from an indigenous person’s point of view, you’d know that having a statue of him in a public place is like having a statue of Hitler in Jerusalem,” he said.