I received an email today asking me, as an Italian-American to sign a petition about preserving statues of Christopher Columbus which are being removed from various locations because they are reminders of the oppression and genocide against Indigenous Peoples of America.
This was my response:
As a 72 year old proud descendant of Italian immigrants (all four of my grandparents came from Southern Italy) and as one who daily celebrates my culture with food and music and even with how I plant my garden, I am not inclined to expend much energy, emotional or physical, in defending Christopher Columbus or statues of him.
Yes, he is a historical figure whose life and work served prominently in the story of the Americas. But I, for one, am not ready to canonize him as some sort of Italian "saint". I don't particularly need any heroes or saints other than my brave grandparents who also sailed the Atlantic in search of a new land.
I now live in New Mexico where the tensions between Indigenous Peoples, the descendants of the Spanish settlers, immigrants and descendents of Mexican descent, the "Anglos" and just about everyone else are sometimes very obvious and easily ignitable.
So, if a statue serves, rightly or not, as a reminder of genocide, enslavement and suffering then it is not worth fighting to keep it in any prominent place, regardless of the ethnicity of the person so cast in bronze or stone. Some revered book has warned us against raising up idols and graven images.
My grandmother used to tell me the story about my grandfather who worked in a factory along side individuals of many other ethnic groups. One day after work he invited a co-worker home for a glass of wine. He and his black friend sat and chatted and drank wine together.
After his friend left, my grandmother, took the glass that the black fellow drank from and threw it into the trash, because, well, it was "dirty".
My grandfather scolded her, "What-a you do that-a for? He's a man-a just-a like-a me." He took the glass out of the trash and said, "You wash-a this, just a like-a mine."
And grandma understood and took the lesson to heart. (And passed that on to me.) They owned a six tenement building and during the depression they not only didn't collect rent, but grandma fed their tenants until her own family lost the house to the bank. These are the values I was taught and believed all Italian-Americans held sacred.
As an Italian-American, what DOES embarrass me and fill me with shame are those Americans with Italian surnames who are a disgrace to our ancestry and to the values which I believed we shared. Values such as taking care of the less fortunate, being truthful, holding learning, education, medicine and science in high regard, being of service to society without regard to personal reward.
But so many have drifted away from those core values and chosen instead to serve an ideology of superiority and privilege. Or should I say, serve the devil? (https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-paesano-of-shame-trumps-italian-american-consiglieres/)
We so quickly forget that our Italian ancestors were considered "darkies" and worse, by white America. And that we as an ethnic group had to earn our white privilege.
So now, having become white, do we now also become comfortably racist? (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/10/12/opinion/columbus-day-italian-american-racism.html)
And does our worship of Columbus become, rather than a badge of honor, a symbol of divisiveness?
Yes, we are proud of our Italian heritage. (Oh but there was a time when even Northern Italians despised and looked down upon those dark, Southern Italians - remember, Christ Stopped at Eboli).
But we are AMERICANS first. Let us not allow a few statues to get in the way of that.