In a deft effort to cut the proverbial baby in half, the Board of Supervisors celebrated both Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Italian American Heritage Month this Tuesday morning in lieu of the more historically fraught Columbus Day observations that typically occur the second Monday of October.
As to the former, the supervisors signed a resolution honoring the Chumash, who for 15,000 years occupied about 7,000 square miles and enjoyed populations of up to 20,000 until the Spanish colonized California in 1769 and erected five missions in Chumash territory. Thanks to “the introduction of European diseases and enslavement,” that population dwindled to 2,700 by 1831. The resolution noted how in 1824, the Chumash waged a major revolt in 1824 against the forced labor imposed at Missions Santa Inés, La Purisima, and Santa Barbara.
One Chumash speaker thanked the supervisors for the resolution, noting, “We still have a lot of history to correct; we still have a lot of future to build.”
Supervisor Das Williams noted that he lives this history every day through his two daughters, who have Navajo blood through his wife. On one hand, Navajo children were prohibited from speaking their native language, he said, while Navajo speakers played an invaluable role creating codes the Japanese could not break during World War II.
Immediately after, the supervisors adopted a resolution proclaiming October as Italian Heritage American Month. Columbus Day is no longer celebrated given the brutal treatment Christopher Columbus — an Italian who happened to fly under the Spanish flag when he “discovered” the New World in 1492 — meted out to the Indigenous people he encountered. The resolution noted that Italian immigrants experienced discrimination as well, highlighting the lynching of 19 Italian immigrants in New Orleans before the turn of the last century. Many were labeled “aliens” during World War II and forced from their homes and sent to internment camps.
Former Santa Maria mayor — and Supervisor Steve Lavagnino’s father — Larry Lavagnino recounted how his great-grandfather had to walk across the Isthmus of Panama on his way to California in search of gold and how the wedding ring he wears is made of gold that his great-grandfather found. His great-grandfather’s son, Lavagnino said, would come to Santa Maria while working for A.P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of Italy, and never leave.
“Thank you,” he said. “Or should I say, ‘Mille grazie’?”