The New Mexico House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday night to rename Christopher Columbus Day, touching off a brief debate that touched on race, ethnicity and history.
House Bill 100 (HB 100) passed the House 50 to 12. Eight other lawmakers were either absent or had been excused from the chamber at the time of the vote, according to the final vote count posted on the New Mexico Legislature’s official website.
House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, along with Reps. Phelps Anderson, Candy Spence Ezzell and Greg Nibert — all Republicans from Roswell — were among the opposing votes.
The bill next heads to the Senate Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee for consideration.
HB. 100 — sponsored by Reps. Derrik Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, and Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe — would rename the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Columbus Day is a federal holiday, but if HB 100 passes the Legislature and is signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the day would be known in New Mexico as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Supporters of the effort say Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, did not actually discover America, was known for his cruelty towards American Indians and that changing the holiday would honor the contributions of American Indian people.
“This legislation is about honoring our rich and diverse cultural histories and realizing that Native American communities are core to our state’s identities,” Romero said during the debate.
Columbus Day was first observed in 1792 in New York City, according to the Smithsonian Institute. The holiday became a celebration of Italian-American Heritage in San Fransisco in 1869.
Congress passed and President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation in 1937 that designated Oct. 12 Columbus Day and made it a federal holiday. President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation in 1972 officially making the second Monday of October Columbus Day.
Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon and Vermont have all renamed Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Hawaii recognizes the second Monday in October as Discoverers’ Day, a day meant to commemorate Polynesian navigators who helped populate the islands, according to the Smithsonian.
Cities across the country have renamed the Columbus Day, including Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
Ezzell equated the proposal with efforts to take down civil war monuments. She said last year she was upset to learn signs commemorating Confederate soldiers along Route 66 were being removed.
Efforts to revise history deny future generations of the right to learn about their heritage and about the nation’s history, she said.
“Mr. Speaker, I think we need to honor our past as well as go forward in our future,” Ezzell said.
Rep. Robert Montoya, R-Farmington, said before the vote he was worried that changing the designation could be seen as divisive and might unintentionally send the message there is a reason to despise western civilization or the U.S.
Before H.B 100 was voted on, Montoya introduced a bill that would keep Columbus Day in place, but make the last Friday in September Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Representatives voted 42 to 22 to table the substitute bill.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.