From Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone:
Today Somerville got caught up in the national game of who can take the most offense. The Boston Herald got a hold of an email sent by the principal of the Kennedy School to school staff raising the question of how to teach the history of the European discovery of the Americas, and decided to make it as sensational as possible.
I spoke with the columnist for 15 minutes, as did School Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi, but she clearly was more interested in stirring the pot than having an adult discussion. So she wrote a column accusing us of not wanting to celebrate any holidays in Somerville and, of course, that turned into regional and national radio and Internet fodder. Apparently some people must take great offense at something new each day and today we have become the designated punching bag.
What I told the Herald columnist is that history is messy. Columbus Day celebrates the nation we have become, one that embodies the adventurous spirit that led Columbus to sail across the Atlantic Ocean in the first place. For many historians Columbus’ voyage marks the end of medieval Europe and the dawn of the modern world. As an Italian-American I take great pride in that, but I also recognize the wrongs committed by the conquistadors who followed him.
No one is saying people cannot celebrate our traditional holidays, just that there’s more to them than fits on the back of a matchbook. Principal Anne Foley raised a fair point with her staff. The story of Columbus is complicated, just like history is complicated. Our educators should be having that discussion. We encourage healthy debate in our schools.
We also celebrate the 4th of July, but we teach our children about the history of slavery in America and that women did not have the right to vote until 1920. We celebrate V-E Day and V-J Day, but we have debate over the firebombing of Dresden and using the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More importantly, people should be able to disagree on these historical events in a civil fashion. I know civil discourse does not make for radio ratings or an Internet sensation, but most people I know prefer it to ranting and raving.
So we have nothing against Columbus Day in Somerville. We also have nothing against Thanksgiving and Halloween. On the Halloween front, on Saturday, October 23rd we will throw the biggest Halloween-themed party in the metro Boston region. We are closing down Somerville Avenue from Union Square to Porter Square for our last SomerStreets festival of the year. There will be a costume parade, costume contests, a haunted house, chainsaw pumpkin carving, zombie makeup and a DJ mashup competition featuring the Halloween classic “Monster Mash” written by Somerville’s own Bobby “Boris” Pickett. Thousands of people are going to be there.
In fact, the biggest thing the Herald missed in its column was the headline – “Fun takes a holiday in Somerville.” We have more fun with more events and holidays in this city than any other city I’ve ever seen.
And we also have schools filled with educators who practice the American tradition of spirited debate. There should be room to celebrate our traditional holidays and to learn history without anyone rushing to take offense.