Thoughts on Columbus, Italian American History, and Solidarity

I envision this as part of a series of pieces I plan to write about Italian American history, memory, and heritage. I’m starting with the topic of Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Stay tuned.

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Every October, I find myself caught between two worlds: the Italian American community, for whom Christopher Columbus is a symbol of Italian and Italian American heritage, and the social justice-oriented community, which encourages us to reconsider ‘Columbus Day’ and transform the national holiday into an opportunity to critically engage with our colonial past.

Many Italian Americans still fiercely defend Columbus Day. But why should we? Why should Italian Americans uncritically accept a man with blood-stained hands as a representative of our heritage? Moreover, how can Italian Americans committed to building a world without oppression grapple with the ugly past and present and honor our Italian American roots?

Instead of glorifying Columbus as a symbol of our Italian American heritage, we can look to our twentieth-century predecessors, the Italian immigrants and their American-born children who faced discrimination and violence from the US government and citizens alike. Their radicalism and resistance against oppression has been deeply researched and well-documented in recent years. In the age of #BlackLivesMatter, the emergence of Indigenous Peoples Day, and increasingly hostile US policies toward non-white immigrants, it’s time for Italian Americans to return to our radical heritage and stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people of color.

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