Italian-Americans in fight against Columbus detractors

No one argues that Christopher Columbus was a nice guy.  By all reports, he was vain, overly ambitious, tyrannical, stubborn, and cruel.

But his published journal set Europe on fire and caused a monumental historical movement of people and ideas, the likes of which have never been seen before or since in world history.

That this migration caused the death of several indigenous civilizations is not in dispute.  But what is also indisputable is that there arose from that movement another civilization that has undeniably done more good in the world than any other in history.

To see the errors, the faults, the deliberate and systematic dismantling and destruction of cultures and peoples is right and necessary.  But to fail in acknowledging the rest of the story – the stupendous, uncountable achievements of Western civilization – is wrong both intellectually and morally. 

And that's my beef with trying to change "Columbus Day" to "Indigenous Peoples Day."

Italian-Americans don't much like it, either.

Associated Press:

But the gesture to recognize indigenous people rather than the man who opened the Americas to European domination also has prompted howls of outrage from some Italian-Americans, who say eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too.

"We had a very difficult time in this country for well over a hundred years," said Basil Russo, president of the Order Italian Sons and Daughters of America. "Columbus Day is a day that we've chosen to celebrate who we are. And we're entitled to do that just as they are entitled to celebrate who they are."

It's not about taking anything away from Italian-Americans, said Cliff Matias, cultural director of the Redhawk Native American Arts Council, which is hosting a Re-Thinking Columbus Day event Sunday and Monday in New York.

"The conversation is Columbus," he said. "If they're going to celebrate Columbus, we need to celebrate the fact that we survived Columbus."

That's total BS.  The move to change who and what is celebrated today is all about "taking away," and anyone who says differently is a liar.  There are 364 other days in the year on which we could acknowledge the sins of our ancestors and celebrate native Americans.  The only reason to choose Columbus Day is to take away the honor given to Columbus and, by extension, Americans of Italian descent.  

Many Italians who migrated to the U.S. initially had a rough time. In 1891, 11 Italians were lynched in New Orleans by a mob that held them responsible for the death of a police official.

At the end of the 1800s, Italians began to link themselves more with Columbus. Italian-American businessman and newspaper owner Generoso Pope was among those who worked to get Columbus Day recognized as a federal holiday in 1937.

"It was one of the things that would allow them to become Americans symbolically," said Fred Gardaphe, a professor of Italian-American studies at Queens College.

It should be noted that for every one native American who was killed at the hands of a white European, ten were felled by diseases.  Within 50 years of Columbus, as many as 90% of all native Americans were dead from European diseases – the overwhelming majority of whom had never seen a white man.  The extensive and complex trade networks in North and Central America carried the diseases to every corner of the continent.

This is not an attempt to absolve the newcomers of responsibility for the crash of native culture.  But just once in this debate, I'd like the other side to acknowledge that the narrative they are telling about Columbus Day is seriously defective and incomplete.  Humans and human societies are far more complex than the simple-minded stick figure stories we hear from those who wish to banish Columbus.  This one-dimensional, deliberate obfuscation of history to settle political scores should not determine who or what is celebrated today.

No one argues that Christopher Columbus was a nice guy.  By all reports, he was vain, overly ambitious, tyrannical, stubborn, and cruel.

But his published journal set Europe on fire and caused a monumental historical movement of people and ideas, the likes of which have never been seen before or since in world history.

That this migration caused the death of several indigenous civilizations is not in dispute.  But what is also indisputable is that there arose from that movement another civilization that has undeniably done more good in the world than any other in history.

To see the errors, the faults, the deliberate and systematic dismantling and destruction of cultures and peoples is right and necessary.  But to fail in acknowledging the rest of the story – the stupendous, uncountable achievements of Western civilization – is wrong both intellectually and morally. 

And that's my beef with trying to change "Columbus Day" to "Indigenous Peoples Day."

Italian-Americans don't much like it, either.

Associated Press:

But the gesture to recognize indigenous people rather than the man who opened the Americas to European domination also has prompted howls of outrage from some Italian-Americans, who say eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too.

"We had a very difficult time in this country for well over a hundred years," said Basil Russo, president of the Order Italian Sons and Daughters of America. "Columbus Day is a day that we've chosen to celebrate who we are. And we're entitled to do that just as they are entitled to celebrate who they are."

It's not about taking anything away from Italian-Americans, said Cliff Matias, cultural director of the Redhawk Native American Arts Council, which is hosting a Re-Thinking Columbus Day event Sunday and Monday in New York.

"The conversation is Columbus," he said. "If they're going to celebrate Columbus, we need to celebrate the fact that we survived Columbus."

That's total BS.  The move to change who and what is celebrated today is all about "taking away," and anyone who says differently is a liar.  There are 364 other days in the year on which we could acknowledge the sins of our ancestors and celebrate native Americans.  The only reason to choose Columbus Day is to take away the honor given to Columbus and, by extension, Americans of Italian descent.  

Many Italians who migrated to the U.S. initially had a rough time. In 1891, 11 Italians were lynched in New Orleans by a mob that held them responsible for the death of a police official.

At the end of the 1800s, Italians began to link themselves more with Columbus. Italian-American businessman and newspaper owner Generoso Pope was among those who worked to get Columbus Day recognized as a federal holiday in 1937.

"It was one of the things that would allow them to become Americans symbolically," said Fred Gardaphe, a professor of Italian-American studies at Queens College.

It should be noted that for every one native American who was killed at the hands of a white European, ten were felled by diseases.  Within 50 years of Columbus, as many as 90% of all native Americans were dead from European diseases – the overwhelming majority of whom had never seen a white man.  The extensive and complex trade networks in North and Central America carried the diseases to every corner of the continent.

This is not an attempt to absolve the newcomers of responsibility for the crash of native culture.  But just once in this debate, I'd like the other side to acknowledge that the narrative they are telling about Columbus Day is seriously defective and incomplete.  Humans and human societies are far more complex than the simple-minded stick figure stories we hear from those who wish to banish Columbus.  This one-dimensional, deliberate obfuscation of history to settle political scores should not determine who or what is celebrated today.

RECENT VIDEOS