Before I explain the title of this blog, I’d like to commemorate this date in Italian history – the joining of Sicily to Italy on March 10th 241 BC. It was 2,260 years ago today that an Italo-Roman fleet ambushed a relief convoy from Carthage (in Africa) headed for its colony in western Sicily and took possession of that island. Sicily has seen numerous occupiers but it was named for the Sicels, an Italic tribe, and always returned to the Italian bosom.
Horatio at the Bridge is a famous legend from Roman history – sadly unknown to Italian Americans – about the soldier who prevented an enemy army from crossing the Tiber River. Updated to our times, I see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as our Horatio positioned to save Columbus Day.
Unfortunately, our Horatio may be a lioness when confronting Donald Trump, but she has met her match in the young tigresses that have entered her lair.
Her recent showdown with Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar was a clear win for the first generation, and first term, Somali Muslim legislator. Omar besmirched the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for influencing our foreign policy with “Benjamins,” (aka political donations). She furthermore called into question Jewish American loyalties. Censuring Omar should have been a slam-dunk for Speaker Pelosi. Instead, it was a civics lesson for the Italian American politico.
When egged on by Jewish legislators to rub Omar’s nose in anti-Semitism with a Resolution, Pelosi was forced by Omar and other newcomers to also add prohibitions on anti-Muslim and any hate speech – diluting the Resolution. Attempts to have Omar thrown off the House Foreign Affairs Committee also bombed. In short, Pelosi failed AIPAC.
Pelosi, who is an AIPAC fan and boasts Jewish grandchildren, got Omar to somewhat apologize, rationalizing that the Muslim didn’t quite understand the various forms of anti-Semitism. But if such a defeat can happen to the powerful Israeli lobby, what can we expect when Columbus Day is on the chopping block?
As the second Italian American Speaker of the House – Sam Taliaferro Rayburn (last century) was the first, by our account – Pelosi should be looking out for us. But we don’t have a sense of her commitment to this federal holiday. True, she has sat on the Board of the National Italian American Foundation in Washington as well as the National Organization of Italian American Women, but she has been less than helpful on Italian-specific issues.
She was a no-show on two initiatives in Congress to redress the 1942 mass injustice known as La Storia Segreta, which saw the expulsion of West Coast Italian Americans from their homes and jobs. She failed to respond to our appeal to rein in the use of “crime families” and “mafia” in FBI lexicon. And she shunned our request to join in condemning Steven Spielberg’s animated film Shark Tale for introducing Mafia characters to children’s entertainment.
A major stumbling-block in getting Pelosi’s attention is that her electoral base in San Francisco is mostly gay and minority. Like any politician, her power rests on money and votes.
As for her ethnic outlook, here are a couple of quotes from the Jewish community: “I’ve heard her say numerous times that the single greatest achievement of the 20th century was the founding of the modern state of Israel” – Amy Friedkin, former president of AIPAC. “As far as the Jewish community is concerned, she feels our issues in her soul,” Sam Lauter, a pro-Israeli activist in San Francisco.
Pelosi probably doesn’t fully understand the hatchet job being done on Christopher Columbus, just as she claims Rep Oman doesn’t quite get anti-Semitism. So, the last thing she would do is defend an accused Satan. Combined with a superficial commitment to the Italic place in American history, Speaker Pelosi may not be our Horatio.
Finally, age is overtaking this stalwart, with open calls for a change to younger leadership.
As goes Pelosi, so goes the bridge. Columbus Day will only be the first breach of that bridge. -JLM