Not all Italian-Americans are for Columbus Day celebrations


It might be surprising to learn that I am an Italian American against Columbus Day.

I’m not a self-hating Italian.  Quite the opposite.  I couldn’t be more proud of my heritage.  My family comes from Basilicata and Molise in il mezzogiorno (Southern Italy).  They came here, as immigrants still do, to escape poverty and find work.

I was born and raised in the working-class streets of South Philly in the 50s and 60s, a time when Italians were still not considered completely white.  As a kid, I endured being called “dago” and “greaseball.”  I was told I had a Roman nose; “roams all over your face,” the kids would laugh.

Every October 12, I got to feel proud of my ethnic features and curly hair.  I didn’t know much about Columbus, only that he was Italian and had discovered America.

In college, I learned a different story.  Failing to find a new route to India, the sailor from Genoa “discovered” a land already occupied by millions of indigenous people.  Columbus wrote of them in his journal, “They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”  He then claimed their land for Spain.  He didn’t claim it for Italy, which was not even a country at the time.

His “discovery” led to the eventual death of 80% or more of the native populations from European diseases to which they had no immunity.  Not to mention the murder of those who dared to resist the will of the conquistadors.

I never felt the same about October 12 again.

I decided to search for real Italian-American heroes.  I studied the history of Italian immigration to this country, it was not a pretty picture.  Those of us from Southern Italy were considered a separate race from Northern Europeans.  Experts wrote that we would never amount to anything because we were innately inferior to Anglos.  There were NINA (No Italian Need Apply) signs to greet us in store windows, and lynchings in the South (where racists saw us as no different than blacks).

During World War II, President Roosevelt approved a blueprint for internment camps for Italian-Americans.  That plan was never executed, but thousands of Italians were relocated, imprisoned and harassed.  The “secret history,” as it is called, of that period is memorialized in a museum exhibit (“Una Storia Segreta”) that has toured the country.

In the midst of my digging, I uncovered heroes: Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two anarchists who were found guilty of murdering a pay clerk and security guard in Braintree, Massachusetts.  International protests did not stop the execution of those men, despite the fact that the evidence was flimsy and during the trial, the judge called them “dagos,” a derogatory term for Italians.

There were the brave Italian immigrant women who helped organize the female garment workers in the sweat shops in New York.  And of course Harlem’s amazing congressman, Vito Marcantonio, who pushed for civil rights for blacks in the 50s, Carlo Tresca, who was involved in the Italian Railroad Workers Federation and published two progressive newspapers, and Mario Savio, one of the founders of the free speech movement at Berkeley in the 60s.

Even the entertainment industry had its share of giants, such as Frank Sinatra who produced a music video in the 40s that promoted multiculturalism, and Tony Bennett, who marched with Martin Luther King in the South.

It’s time for Italian-Americans to say goodbye to Columbus and embrace our proud history.

Being proud to be Italian has nothing to do with Columbus.


New Mexico, USA celebrates its first Indigenous Peoples’ Day – – Monday, October 14, 2019



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3 thoughts on “Not all Italian-Americans are for Columbus Day celebrations

  1. I have no real emotional position on this, just like I don’t about the French-Mexican war or the Spanish conquering Mexico. I can cite my 20% indigenous DNA as a reason to have a strong opposition to Columbus being honored -or conversely -use the remaining Southern European dna in me (and nearly a quarter of it Italian) to defend him. That would be silly. The point of this guilt over the past wrongdoings of western imperialism we had nothing to do with is moot. We get what they did was wrong and horribly exploitative, but we are in the here and now and must simply learn, remember and move on.

    Non-Hispanic Whites have occasionally asked if my wife and I if we celebrate Cinco de Mayo, for example. I’ve always jokingly replied that I do, but my wife, being a descendant of a French solider from that period (and he still carries his last name) does not; since the French lost. This usually get a laugh and tends to put things in its proper perspective.


    • Thanks, David, again for your thoughtful comment.
      I had mixed emotion when I decided to bring this topic up.
      Nevertheless, I decided to bring this topic up mainly because I live in New Mexico, a unique state that has 23 native American tribes within and a state where the Anglo-Saxon population is not the majority.
      The Indo-Hispano people are the majority here in New Mexico.
      In other words, the majority of the people here are of mixed heritage – – Spanish and indigenous.
      Even though there are also some Caucasian Spaniards (pure Hispanos with blue eyes) here but they are in a minority, because the vast majority of the Spanish conquistadores did not bring their Spanish women from Spain and therefore chose to marry local indigenous women (i.e., native Amercan women).
      There are also some decendants of Hispanic Jews that found refuge here, especially in northern New Mexico, who had fled the Spanish Inquisition in Europe and elsewhere. But again, many of them intermarried here with the local indigenous folks as well as with some Anglo Saxons who later came to New Mexico.
      New Mexico definitely has a complicated history.
      But I believe that with much pain and suffering, the original residents, i.e., the native Americans and their culture did survive all these years and that recognition should finally be given. This is just my personal opinion.


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