Some Italian-Americans observe Columbus Day as a celebration of their heritage, the first occasion being in New York City on October 12, 1866. Columbus Day was popularized as a holiday in the United States by a lawyer, a son of Genoese immigrants who came to California. During the 1850s, Genoese immigrants settled and built ranches along the Sierra Nevada foothills. As the gold ran out, these skilled "Cal-Italians", from the Apennines, were able to prosper as self-sufficient farmers in the Mediterranean climate of Northern California. San Francisco has the second oldest Columbus Day celebration, with Italians having commemorated it there since 1869.
This lawyer then moved to Colorado, which had a population of Genoese miners, and where, in 1907, the first state-wide celebration was held. In 1934, at the behest of the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic fraternal service organization named for the voyager), Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set aside Columbus Day, October 12, as a Federal holiday (36 USC 107, ch. 184, 48 Stat. 657).
Since 1971, the holiday has been commemorated in the U.S. on the second Monday in October, the same day as Thanksgiving in neighboring Canada. It is generally observed today by banks, the bond market, the US Postal Service and other federal agencies, most state government offices, and many school districts; however, most businesses and stock exchanges remain open.
Hawaii does not officially honor Columbus day and instead celebrates Discoverer's Day on the same day, i.e., on the second Monday of each October. While many in Hawaii still celebrate the life of Columbus on Columbus Day, the alternative holiday also honors James Cook, the British navigator that became the first person to record the coordinates of the Hawaiian Islands and share with the world the existence of the ancient Hawaiian people and society. Some people interpret the holiday as a celebration of all discoveries relative to the ancient and modern societies of Hawaii. Neither Columbus Day nor Discoverer's Day is regarded as a holiday by State government; state, city and county government offices and schools are open for business on Columbus Day, while Federal government offices are closed.
Many Native Hawaiians decry the celebration of both Columbus and Cook, known to have committed acts of violent subjugation of native people. Discoverer's Day is a day of protest for some advocacy groups. A popular protest site is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace and the Chancery building of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu. Such advocacy groups have been commemorating the Discoverer's Day holiday as their own alternative, Indigenous Peoples Day. The week is called Indigenous Peoples Week.
Between 1921 and 2002, Venezuela had celebrated Día de la Raza along with many other Latin American nations. The holiday was officially established in 1921 under President Juan Vicente Gómez. In 2002, under president Hugo Chávez, the name was changed to Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance) to commemorate the Indigenous people's resistance to European settlement. On the 2004 Day of Indigenous Resistance, a activists toppled a statue of Columbus in Caracas. The pro-Chávez, left-wing website Aporrea wrote: "Just like the statue of Saddam in Baghdad, that of Columbus the tyrant also fell this October 12, 2004 in Caracas. The famous toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue had occurred the previous year.
Opposition to the holiday cites this cruelty committed by those under Columbus' leadership and that of many of the following European colonists. Columbus directly brought about the demise of many Taino (Arawak) Native Americans on the island of Hispaniola, and the arrival of the Europeans indirectly caused the decline in population of many indigenous peoples by introducing diseases previously unknown in the New World. An estimated 85% of the Native American population was wiped out within 150 years of Columbus' arrival in America, due largely to diseases such as smallpox that spread among Native populations. Additionally, ensuing war and the appropriation of land and material wealth by European colonists also contributed to the decline of the indigenous populations in the Americas.
In the summer of 1990, 350 Native Americans, representatives from all over the hemisphere, met in Quito, Ecuador, at the first Intercontinental Gathering of Indigenous People in the Americas, to mobilize against the quincentennial celebration of Columbus Day. The following summer, in Davis, California, more than a hundred Native Americans gathered for a follow-up meeting to the Quito conference. They declared October 12, 1992, International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People. The largest ecumenical body in the United States, the National Council of Churches, called on Christians to refrain from celebrating the Columbus quincentennial, saying, "What represented newness of freedom, hope, and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others.
Michael Berliner, of the Ayn Rand Institute, has defended celebration of Columbus Day, hailing the European conquest of North America and describing the indigenous culture as “a way of life dominated by fatalism, passivity, and magic.” Western civilization, Berliner claimed, brought “reason, science, self-reliance, individualism, ambition, and productive achievement” to a people who were based in “primitivism, mysticism, and collectivism”, and to a land that was “sparsely inhabited, unused, and underdeveloped.”