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Rebooting Columbus Day


New York Daily News, October 13, 2014

Should New York give Columbus Day the hook?

Some naysayers have already scuttled the holiday. Seattle's school board voted to expunge the Great Navigator from the calendar, with the second Monday of October to henceforth be celebrated as "Indigenous Peoples' Day."

Christopher Columbus Statue Closer to home, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo has replaced the traditional Columbus Day Parade with a sausage-and-pepper festival akin to the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy.

As an Italo-American educator who teaches cultural diversity at Briarcliffe College, I find these sorts of capitulations to political correctness to be ethnically insensitive and historically myopic.

Gotham's salute to Cristoforo Colombo must not be abolished, neutered or marginalized. But it does need to be rebooted.

One place where New York might derive some inspiration for accomplishing that is Chicago. The 2014 Columbus Day celebration there pays tribute to the Italians who safeguarded and sheltered Jews from Nazi Germany's final solution.

Among the Holocaust survivors is my friend Edna Epstein, whose flight from the Nazis in Yugoslavia brought her to the safety and tolerance of Italy.

"I don't think we as a family would've survived in any other country in Europe," she said.

And when other Jews were sent to Calabria's Ferramonti internment camp for their protection, the citizens of the nearby town of Tarsia gave them succor by building a library, a nursery, a theater, an infirmary and even a synagogue.

Still, even as the parade is a paean to such Italian exceptionalism, Columbus Day is and must remain first and foremost an American holiday.

Therefore, in the spirit of e pluribus unum (meaning "out of one, many"), Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo should kick off the festivities by reciting our Pledge of Allegiance.

The pair could remind New Yorkers that this ode to national unity was penned by Francis Bellamy on October 12, 1892-in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus' epochal trek.

By sailing the wine-dark Atlantic, Columbus sparked the great age of exploration-and the ensuing voyages of Giovanni da Verrazano, Amerigo Vespucci, Enrico Tonti and Giovanni Caboto, better known as John Cabot, who led the British crown to North America.

We should remember that the voyages of Cabot and Columbus were financed by the great Italian merchant banks of the period. Indeed, historian German Arciniegas Angueyra called the discovery of this new world "in part an Italian enterprise."

This year marks the 2,000th anniversary of the death of Caesar Augustus, the small-town Italian boy who became Rome's first emperor and the architect of the Pax Romana.

Christopher Columbus, a Renaissance exemplar of that self-same culture, brought the gifts of his ancestral patrimony to the New World.

And we are all the richer for it.

Rosario Iaconis

 
 
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