The Italian Enclaves Historical Society welcomes contributions from followers and fans. The following piece written by Anthony Dalbo expresses certain concepts regarding the conversation around Christopher Columbus and shall serve as no actual representation of the opinions of our society or its members:
I am a proud Italian-American, of Italian immigrants from Fiorino in Avellino and San Costantino Albanese in Potenza,. In 2018 The Nutley/Belleville NJ Columbus Day Committee honored me with a Renaissance Man of the Year Award. As a proud Italian American, I feel compelled to address much of the misguided notions behind the recent movements to remove Columbus Day and Columbus statues.
Revelations in the 1990’s brought to light many of Christopher Columbus’s transgressions through his journeys to the west. He wasn’t a simple explorer. He was a conqueror. He enslaved Native Peoples of the Bahamas under Spanish rule, and murdered many who opposed him. No one today disputes this. No one today claims that these actions are acceptable by today’s morals but the question becomes do we constantly revise history based upon an ever-evolving civilized morality? In order to understand the Italian-American support for Columbus, we must first understand its origins.
Although the movement to erase Christopher Columbus from the history books has been going on since the late 1800s, the push to remove Columbus Day has evolved and has been reinvigorated recently. People are calling for Columbus Day to be renamed Indigineous Peoples’ Day. Statues of Columbus are being dismantled or desecrated. Unfortunately, this movement is misguided and the holiday is very much misunderstood.
Columbus Day has been celebrated by Italian immigrants since the mid 1800s when the first Italians came to America in search of a better life. When they arrived in this country, their immigrant status listed them as “dark skinned.” Italians were beaten and lynched. All the more reason why Italians-Americans should stand with the Black Lives Matter movement today as our ancestors were victims of the systemic racism that exists today. They celebrated Columbus Day not to honor the man, but rather, used Columbus, an Italian who ushered in the age of exploration that led us to the moment we find ourselves in today, as a symbol of Italian pride. Without Columbus, we would not have had Vespucci, Verrazano, Hudson, or even the Pilgrims.
Our ancestors built these monuments and paid for them without taxpayer money. They did this to honor and be prideful of Italian-American history; to show the rest of the country that Italians should not be treated as third class citizens but should be recognized as equals. That if it wasn’t for an Italian who dared to travel west, we would not have an America at all. The celebration was used as a positive representation of our heritage and for Italians to become more widely accepted in an American society of which they were not.
In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day a one time national celebration primarily to ease tensions around the Italian-American community after 11 Italian immigrants were lynched by a mob in New Orleans in 1891. Columbus Day was not a federally recognized holiday until 1934 and wasn’t placed on the calendar of Federal Holidays until 1968. During World War 2, FDR knew he needed Italian-American support for the war as soldiers and factory workers to gain an edge over the Axis Powers, of which Italy was a part, and win the war. To shower favor on the Italian-American community, many of whom gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and through the lobbying efforts of groups like the Knights of Columbus, he designated Columbus Day as a National Holiday. This designation was done solely for political purposes so as to reach out to a group of people and say “we stand with you.” This attempt did not quell the anti-Italian sentiment entirely. The failed anti-Italian movement evolved into an anti-
Italian-Catholic movement by focusing on the lobbying efforts of the Knights of Columbus. After many Italian-Americans fought in the war and we came out victorious, much of the movement to remove Columbus Day calmed down and in 1968, it was finally added to the official calendar of National Holidays.
The movement today is using Columbus’s image as a racist conqueror to push once again to remove the holiday and his statues. As stated earlier, no one with today’s morals would say Columbus’s actions were ethical. But by today’s standards, no one from our history prior to FDR was a good man. Our forefathers owned slaves. Presidents took over land by force to expand west or designate land as National Parks. Men did not allow women to have any sort of recognition. So I ask, where does this revisionist movement end? Do we constantly rewrite history and focus on only those who are pure at heart to be honored? That list would be nearly non-existent. Do we rename all of the Washington Avenues because Washington was a slave owner? Do we rename Washington, D.C? Or do we focus on their roles in American history to illustrate how we arrived at this point in time? Do we say Washington was a slave owner, or do we say Washington was the first President of the United States who established precedence for our democratic rule? Do we say Columbus was a conqueror or do we say Columbus sparked the age of exploration?
Columbus Day is not a day to honor the man but to honor the people who share his nationality. By desecrating these statues, you are desecrating the image of our ancestors who built and bought these monuments. By removing the holiday, you are removing the one day that honors and pays respect to a once rejected group of people in this country. An attack on Columbus Day is not an attack on the man, but rather an attack on the Italian-American Community.