First let me be clear, I was born and raised in New York, but because of the cost of living, I'm a displaced New Yorker, living in Florida. I'm told it's lovely, from those who like the tropics, which I don't. I'm also a mutt, I come from several lines of generations in this country, plus my family got around in Europe. I know my fathers father was born to Italian immigrants in the Bronx. Both of my grandfathers were Italian and both served in World War Two. A New Yorker will understands the significance of the Italian World War Two veterans, but many outside our state don't fully understand the pain and suffering of our heritage.
Before we go into detail about that, let us acknowledge,Columbus was a Bastard! The story we all learned in school about him discovering America and the shape of the earth were directly from a fictional novel "A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus," by Washington Irving, written in 1828. This was written during a time where the American Colonists were in the act of committing mass genocide to the Natives from the northern continent. Making Christopher Columbus a hero was fitting for men who devalued human life for means of profits and power. The same arts of manipulation were used to change the "Thanksgiving" history, into the school musical's your parents loved watching you preform back when you still had a bed time.
Columbus was a slave trader and tyrant. In fact he and his brothers treated the indigenous people of Hispaniola so horribly, that Queen Isabella of Spain had the trio brought back to Europe in chains. This was the same monarch who began the Spanish Inquisition, had Columbus stripped of his title as Governor of the Indies for inhumane treatment. It is understandable why the decendents in the indigenous people, who have been nearly wiped out find this man so offensive.
Why do Italian's love him so? Well take a look of the myth we have been wrongly taught as fact's. Columbus, an Italian, discovers America and that the world isn't in some way flat. Those are pretty flattering accomplishments for one to associate yourself with. Who would want to give that up, especially for a truth that is so ugly!
Just as the Irish hold true to Saint Patrick as an excuse to celebrate their culture, with limited knowledge of the history of the character, Columbus is a sort of demi god that reprents a culture and people. Even if the real person is nothing as the myth claim's, the idea has evolved further into a culture. Italians from the early twenth century, especially those from southern Italy were considered genetically inferior. Many italian families abandoned their native lanuage completely in hopes of acceptance, well as their names altered by authority figures. Religion was also a complication. America prided itself on its white Protestant image, demanding cultures submit to their standards. Naturally due to poverty, discrimination and in the case of the 1920s Prohibition, led to a new level of crime, ie.... organised crime.
Italian families fought long and hard to reach acceptance. A turning point came when the United States entered into World War Two. Italian were the largest national group to join the serve to fight. To many Italians who fought it was about freeing the motherland from Mussolini to proving their undying loyalty to the new world. Yet fifty years later and still no Italian President, there is still the fear against Catholics and old fears often die kicking screaming.
Italian families, despite many cultural sacrifices maintained a close net family ties and reinvention of Italian cooking, Italian American cuisine. Ideas between which traditions should be kept and which should die is battle from generation to generation. Today many younger Italian's are leaving Catholicism, some become Protestant, but fastly more becomes secular or pagan. Italian history has famous atheist like Umberto Veronesi an oncologist who contributed greatly to the prevention and treatment of breast cancer and Renato Caccioppio a mathematician and pianists. Italian culture also has a strong pagan history. From ancient Rome to Catholic mytheism, Italian culture is rich in ancient spirituality. These changes are frightening to the older individuals who won't question the authorities of their childhood.
Which is why many Italian individual's become attached to the nostalgic romantized story story of Columbia. The problem is the idea that American Italian culture needs to represented by a singular historical figure. I challenge this notion!
- World War Two Italian veterans: these brave men and women were more than willing to fight and even die for this country. So many fought, mainstream society was forced to reconsider Italian's in American culture.
- Our food is a celebration all in itself! From cappuccino to lasagna. Your mouth waters with just the smell of a good pizza. You haven't lived until you had cannolli-gasm!
- Italian artist and celebrities. From Leonardo DiVinci to Robert DeNero. Frank Sinatra, is iconic and Valentino still received flowers on his grave. Not to mention century old operas, dances, sculptures, paintings, etc. . Italian culture has contributed to society.
All of these people and traditions represent modern day Italian Americans better than a mad slave trader who died in the early sixteenth century. We as a culture have much to be proud of, over the dark stain from our his history, which Columbus really was. We deserve better than him and should celebrate all that makes our culture great and in turn make America great!