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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Article: “What are women’s prisons for?”

Amy Halliday, Chelsea Miller, and Julie Peterson, “‘What are women’s prisons for?’: Gendered states of incarceration and history as an agent for social change,” Museums & Social Issues: A Journal of Reflective Discourse 12, no. 1 (April 2017): 56-66, https://doi.org/10.1080/15596893.2017.1292104.

ABSTRACT
As the exhibition States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories travels the nation, visitors will explore the roots of mass incarceration in our communities. While mass incarceration has garnered increased media and scholarly attention in recent years, mainstream analyses overlook the role of gender, even as women are the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population in the United States. This article argues that women’s incarceration and the gendered aspects of the carceral state need to become more prominent in the national narrative, and that museums and public history institutions, in partnership with local communities, have the potential to lead this effort. Archival research and oral history interviews with community activists on the ground shed light on the gendered aspects of incarceration in the United States while, at the same time, amplifying the voices of community members and activists. Doing so provides a model for how museums and public history professionals can become active participants in promoting social change.

KEYWORDS
Carceral studies, gender, Massachusetts, mass incarceration, oral history, public memory

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