Francis Albert Sinatra was the only child of two Italian immigrants. His father was Anthony Sinatra, a New York fireman of Sicilian origin, and his...
October, the month we traditionally celebrate our Italian Heritage, has unfortunately become the month when mean-spirited slings, arrows and Columbus bashers come out in full force. But be vigilant, those who wish to discredit us are busy throughout the year.
Ken Borelli, president of the I.A.H.F. (Italian American Heritage Foundation) wrote this in early 2013:
“A piece of legislation, AB 55, was introduced in the state legislature to eliminate Columbus Day as a state holiday, replacing it with Native American Day. It was subsequently defeated by a strong response from organizations and individuals in our community.
Type-casting is one of the reasons a state legislator would think that by removing Columbus Day as a state holiday, an event that Italian Americans identify with, you can exonerate what happened to Native American people by the hands of the dominant culture of the times.
The vast majority of Italians immigrated to the United States in the 1880’s, well after the destruction of Native American society by the majority culture.
We as Italian Americans are in an interesting role because as immigrants we were met with similar discrimination by the dominant culture of the times. Now that we have become “assimilated”, does that also mean we have to accept the “collective guilt” as to what happened to the Native Americans? Why are we such easy targets for these accusations? The same state legislator could have asked that President Andrew Jackson’s picture be removed from a $20.00 bill for his horrific role in the removal of Native Americans west of the Mississippi River. Today we call that “ethnic cleansing”. Obviously he did not. That would have required more courage than he could muster, rather he chose Columbus’ explorations which occurred 300 years before that! One wonders, too, why Italian American heritage is on the block?”
Dr. Ken Ciongoli, late president of the N.I.A.F. wrote this during the year of the Quintcentennial celebrations, 1992:
“Cristoforo Colombo, the Italian from Genoa, was far more than a navigator who made a lucky mistake. His visionary geographical theories were bolstered by the learning of Italian Renaissance scholars. He was nurtured in the environment of Italian philosophers, architects, engineers, artists, cartographers and navigators who were rescuing the world from the 1,000 years that history has called the Dark Ages. There may have been others who suggested that the world was round, but few dared act on their beliefs. Using only primitive sextant and compass, Columbus estimated the distance of his voyage with only a 20 percent error. His caravels averaged eight knots, a speed worthy of any modern sailing yacht over the same route today.
For most of this century, Columbus has been the ethnic hero of Italian Americans. But, it was the Anglo-Saxon governing class of the United States that first enshrined him. In 1791, a year before the 300th anniversary of his voyage, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison insisted that Columbus’ name be linked with George Washington’s when they chose the name of our capital city, Washington, District of Columbia Later, Columbus became an Irish-American hero. From 1840 to 1890, he was recognized for bringing Catholicism to this hemisphere. The Knights of Columbus, which began as a predominantly Irish-American organization, remains as a tribute to those 19th century sentiments.
In the past, Hispanic Americans looked to Columbus as a symbol of the Spanish new world. Spanish royalty financed Columbus’ voyage of discovery and Spanish explorers and settlers preceded the first English settlements. In a paradoxical twist of historical perspective, Columbus became a magnet for contemporary American social conflict in the 1990’s. Native Americans, understandably outraged by the decimation of their people and cultures by the European hordes that followed Columbus, have the explorer in their rhetorical sights. In the spirit of Pres. Jefferson’s Columbus, let us all celebrate the explorer’s courage, vision, perseverance and zeal. And, under the umbrella of Columbus’ own belief that we are all children of God, we can celebrate his curiosity, his bravery and his tolerance on this, the 500th anniversary of the event fundamental to the history of our country.”
Roger Boschetti, late president of the S.F. Italian Athletic Club, Italian-American T.V. and longtime Northern California representative for L’Italo-Americano, wrote this as our Columbus Parades and celebrations continued to be disrupted a decade later, 2002:
“America is made up of many different ethnic groups. Italian Americans are proud to promote their culture with different Holidays, but we don’t tell other groups to change the names of their Holidays just because we don’t like what they call them.
For most of us our motto is “Live and Let Live”, and we also abide by the Constitution of the land and are proud to be Americans of Italian descent. Just because there are a few ignorant malcontents who do not want to play it by the Law, it’s too bad for them but certainly it is not our fault. Wake up Italian Americans, there are people who are trying to take our rights away. These same people are treating us like second class citizens. Are we? I do not think so. We have the same rights as any other ethnic group, including the Native Indians of Denver, Colorado, who think they can dictate to us what to call our traditional Italian holidays. Do they think with their demonstrations and those tactics that they are intimidating us?
We say NEVER, NEVER! We are living in this beautiful and free country which we helped to build and we have too much at stake to let these malcontents try to deprive us of our rights. I am talking about culture: music, film makers, the judiciary, war heroes, etc...etc...In fact some of our Ancestors were serving in the army even before the Declaration of Independence. Did you know that the first Columbus Day Parade was held in Denver in 1867? Did you know that in the late 1700’s, and the early part of the next century, thousands of Italian immigrants were working in the mines in Colorado and were given the dirtiest jobs and also the most dangerous ones? In 1919, my father was there working in one of those mines and he was almost killed when one of the shafts caved in, and most of the other immigrants died but my father happened to be one of the lucky ones?
Anyway people dedicated like my father and others like him do not exist anymore, those are the ones who put Colorado on the map. I believe that all Italian American organizations should be proud to have members such as C.M. Mangiaracina who stood up and told the Native Indians where to get off, when they told him that they could have a parade as long as they don’t call it Christopher Columbus. Mr. Mangiaracina told them, “You can choke on it”. Mr. Mangiaracina, by standing up for what you believe you have made millions of friends not just in the United States but all over the world”.
Nota Bene: Readers, it is 2013 and State Legislators are still trying to chip away at our heritage. Please double your support for our Italian American Press and our Italian American Heritage Organizations...