…they were both lousy at their jobs. But Columbus outdid Lee in sheer ruthlessness.
Today is “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” the holiday formerly, and in some places still known as “Columbus Day.” Or, in the New York City school system, “Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day.” While on Fifth Avenue in NYC the Columbus Citizens Foundation (CCF) will hold the 77th Annual Columbus Day Parade.
The CCF’s motto is, “Preserving Heritage/Creating Opportunities. I wonder if they really understand the nature of their heritage preservation. I wonder if they really know the true nature of their namesake hero. Of course, they do. But rather than own up to the reality that was Christopher Columbus, they hide behind what Philadelphia lawyer George Bochetto says, in protesting Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration’s covering of a Christopher Columbus statue, an attack on Italian-American heritage.
“In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He had three ships and left from Spain…” You all remember that little ditty. We learned it in elementary school in the ‘50’s. And, you all remember the names of those three ships, the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.
Columbus, we learned, was a hero, not just to Italian Americans, but to all of us. I mean, how can you not glorify this brave man, and his courageous crew, who “discovered America?” Especially when your teacher told you how great a man he was.
Of course, what our teachers didn’t tell us was this:
Columbus saw Indigenous Americans as obstacles only to be used as slaves and for profit
- Columbus and his men enslaved many native inhabitants of the West Indies and subjected them to extreme violence and brutality.
- Columbus enacted policies of forced labor in which natives were put to work for the sake of profits.
- Within 60 years after Columbus landed, only a few hundred of what may have been 250,000 Taino were left on their island.
Columbus’ Role in the “Age of Exploration” helped to bring new diseases to the New World
- The “Columbian exchange” which described the exchange of plants, animals and goods between the East and West, in its worst aspects, added up to biological warfare.
Columbus’ idea to sail west wasn’t as brilliant as we were taught.
- While Columbus was determined to find a direct water route west from Europe to Asia, but he never did. Instead, he accidentally stumbled upon the Americas. Despite this, he named the people he discovered, “Indians,” thinking he actually was in Asia.
- Nor, as we were taught, did Columbus “discover” that the Earth is round, not flat. Why? Because as early as the sixth century B.C., Pythagoras — later followed by Aristotle and Euclid — wrote about Earth as a sphere.
Going back to the Columbus poem we learned, it’s actually hard to find a reference now to one with the exact words we knew; apparently a lot of people are in the “Columbus is not a hero” camp.
I thought this one most succinctly captures the “real” Christopher Columbus:
But still, despite all the damning evidence, Columbus Day is still a thing.
Look, I’m not a “Cancel Culture” zealot. But really, do we have to continue honoring a racist, mean-spirited, genocidal, money-hungry explorer who didn’t discover anything and thought, mistakenly, that he had landed in Asia? If Italian Americans think it’s important to honor their compatriots’ contributions to this country, they should, by all means, do so. Just call it “Italian Heritage Day” and hold it on any day, except the second Monday in October. And, absolutely and deservedly, there should be an “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” but also not on the second Monday in October. And when those two holidays are codified, let’s retire Columbus Day, not to disrespect Italian-Americans, but to end the deceit that Cristóbal Colón should be honored.
So, to all you Italian Americans out there, get it right. Endorse “Italian Heritage Day.” And, maybe, because there have been so many, have a rolling list of Italian American honorees. Perhaps start with this list, courtesy of Biography.com, of the 10 Italian Americans who changed history:
- Frank Sinatra
- Mother Cabrini
- Joe DiMaggio
- Enrico Fermi
- Lucky Luciano
- Mario Puzo
- Lee Iacocca
- Geraldine Ferraro
- Anthony Fauci
- Antonin Scalia
But, with all due respect to Biography.com, I need to expand the list to 11 (which as many of you fans of “This Is Spinal Tap” will tell you is one ‘louder’ than 10) to include the Italian American who did more to change history…of American television…than anyone: Tony Soprano!