With Leaders Like This…

Let’s be clear: Italian American politicians have every right not to automatically help us. But when they easily support other communities – ethnic, racial, or sexual – and pay us lip-service, then it’s time to call them out.

The other day, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York was speaking before the Columbus Lodge of the Sons of Italy saying that the Columbus Day holiday is “not about Christopher Columbus. It’s about the millions of Americans who came to this country…” Why he chose to say this before an audience that named their lodge after the Great Navigator is perplexing.  Cuomo recently affirmed to our community leaders his support for the holiday, but that’s not what he is actually preaching.  If the holiday is not about Columbus shouldn’t it be renamed, something like “Immigrants Day?”  The Cuomo interpretation is effectively giving our Admiral the heave ho.

Mayor Bill Wilhelm (aka DeBlasio) of New York folded like a cheap card table when the Puerto Rican-American president of the City Council called for the Columbus statue in Columbus Circle to be taken down. Instead of defending his new-found heritage he ordered a commission to judge all memorials within city limits. At the same time, he ‘feels’ Italian American pain.

The game these politicians are playing is to convert Columbus Day into a something-for-everyone holiday.  In the process they destroy the original meaning of the day and any Italian American connection to the founding of America.  While they play the peacemakers in this controversy, in fact they are serving their own political ambitions.  As the anti-Columbus revisionists and those who are neutral see our own politicians crumble, the days of Columbus will be numbered.

Part of the problem is that 1492 has been overly simplified in schools, becoming more negative each year. We, including our politicians, all grew up with only the rudimentary facts and myths surrounding that momentous date.  The myths were that Europeans thought the earth was flat, that Italians rejected Columbus, that Queen Isabella paid for his voyage, that the Indigenous peoples welcomed him.

We should all know now that Italian merchants in Spain bankrolled half his expenses, and Italians from traveler Marco Polo to mapmaker Paolo Toscanelli inspired his vision to sail west. We should all know that the Taino Indians massacred 80 Europeans in two separate attacks before Columbus used force of arms to subdue them. And most importantly, we should all know that the Columbian Exchange – the movement of humans, flora, fauna, and microbes across the Atlantic – created our modern world, overwhelmingly for the better.

An alliance of anti-Euro-Americans has managed to load 1492 with every misfortune suffered by Amerindians, African Americans, and mixed-blood Hispanics – whether it happened in 1492 on the island of Hispaniola or anywhere on the two continents in the past 525 years. But its timeline doesn’t end there. Columbus is being held responsible for these folks’ miseries from now on into the distant future until they say stop.

So effective is their attack that our politicians can’t figure out where to hide. Not one of them knows the full story of 1492 and has no interest in learning it now. For some, the easiest defense is to block the attacks by broadening the holiday or claiming that dissing Columbus is an insult to the Italian American community. While the latter is an effective tool in cities with a large Italic population, it is meaningless in most states and at school districts around the country where the holiday is rapidly being renamed to celebrate Indigenous Peoples. It may work to save a statue but why would America – Euro or non – want to convert Columbus Day into a celebration of the Italic people? We ain’t loved that much!

Saving Columbus means understanding 1492 and countering the attackers who ironically now benefit in their daily lives from the material, agricultural, intellectual, scientific, and technological progress that came from 1492.      -JLM

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