Many Italian-Americans feel strongly about Columbus Day. It celebrates a hero of their heritage and a hero of Western Civilization. But the history of Christopher Columbus is a complex one. In fact, many of the explorer’s darker aspects have gotten more attention than the positive ones. For example, some scholars have highlighted the depopulation of Hispaniola’s indigenous Tainos.
There is also the issue of how Columbus’ voyage relates to the current state of America. While some Italian-Americans celebrate their heritage and the Italian contribution to the country’s founding, others have become very critical of the holiday. Several statues of the explorer have been removed or evicted from public places.
Some Italian-Americans see this as an affront to their ethnic heritage. Others argue that Columbus Day is a celebration of Western Civilization. A recent New York Times article outlines the controversy.
One reason some Italian-Americans continue to fight for the holiday is because Columbus’ achievements and story were an inspiration to them. The explorer was born into a working class family in Genoa, Italy, and grew up to work as a mariner and merchant. As a result, his voyage inspired many others to follow his lead. However, it also made Columbus a target for mockery. After his first trip, Columbus suffered a severe gout attack that left him bedridden for months.
His gout continued to deteriorate in later years. Columbus’ expeditions were a major part of the discovery of the Americas. He established several colonies, including in Haiti and Cuba. Most of the natives who accompanied him on his travels died on his return trip. This, coupled with the fact that the natives’ population was steadily declining, made Columbus’ voyages a controversial subject for many.
Another reason some Italian-Americans have continued to fight for the holiday is because of the connection between Columbus and the enslavement of Native Americans. Columbus and his crew introduced the United States to the Atlantic slave trade, which was already underway. Additionally, the natives were abused by Columbus and his crew.
Although Columbus’ contributions to the American economy have sparked controversy, his journeys also set the stage for the eventual emergence of the United States. As a result, the explorer became an icon for Italian-American Catholics. These Italians, as well as other immigrants, saw Columbus as a symbol of their immigrant roots. At the same time, their newfound identity as Italian Americans gave them an identity apart from the xenophobic and discriminatory American culture they were facing.
Regardless of what their opinions are, many Italian-Americans have come to appreciate the explorer’s contributions to their country. Their celebration of Columbus Day has spanned centuries. During the 19th century, several Italian-American organizations began to lobby for federal recognition of the day.
Eventually, Congress passed a law making the day a national holiday. The holiday officially became a federal holiday in 1937. Unfortunately, the number of elected officials who have publicly supported keeping the holiday has dwindled. Yet some Italian-Americans, such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, have stood in strong support.