It seems almost unbelievable that in the year 2014 we are yet in the midst of some controversy regarding the celebration of Columbus Day, when it is a federal holiday in the United States. That means that it is a governmental holiday, without mail deliveries and most schools are closed in America. It is not merely a day for sales in our stores, but rather a day to pause and recall the sacrifices made by an "Admiral of the Seas." It should mean that school children should know or have learned about Columbus. Instead, in a large city such as Seattle, Washington, the City Council has voted to create "Indigenous Day" as opposed to a normal, simple and acknowledgement that it is Columbus Day. How five such members of that council would vote on October 6, 2014 to create such a recognition is definitively a slight against Italians and Italians Americans, for there are some 364 other days to recognize such a day. City Councilmen, why not find another ethnic group to do this to!
One wonders how such can come about when one easily knows the story of Columbus. He was a discoverer, that is, he came to find what he did and he reported back to those who had never ventured that far, and he opened a whole New World for us all. Was he a man of his time? For sure! But did he do anything inappropriate here in our North American lands? No! Let us be realistic, for this is what is known today as "revisionist" history an,d created by folks who think they are being politically correct. What could be correct about facts that have been proven, written about and known for centuries? One can hardly respect these elected officials on the City Council of Seattle, for despite the protestations of those Italian Americans who came forth and made testimony, they were determined to not honor them nor the history of Columbus.
At the same time, we can be proud of the newly announced parade that is to take place in Dallas, Texas, where no such parade has ever taken place to the best of our knowledge. And yes, one person has made that difference and created a way to make it happen. We salute the City of Dallas and all those who are making this possible.
Oftentimes, we forget the past. But for one moment let us recall the work of the Commission for Social Justice of the now 109 year old Order Sons (and Daughters) of Italy in America who led a battle several years back to fight for the parade in the City of Denver, Colorado. At that time, there existed no city ordinance that would disallow disruption to a parade. Marchers, at that time, had to withstand rocks, vegetables, etc. from bystanders, who again were fighting for "their" rights for indigenous recognition, and all on Columbus Day. Through the efforts of the CSJ and funds raised by the national membership of the OSIA, legal counsel was hired and a law proposed, later adopted and, in an ensuing parade, those who attempted to disrupt the parade were arrested. The parade persists, as it does in Pueblo, CO.
All of this points to the pride that Italians and italian Americans have in their heritage. They have earned it, for the DNA goes back all too long and all too rich in the arts and more. For example, each year for some 38 years in the month of October, the Italian Heritage and Culture Committee – NY, Inc., has orchestrated a theme, and one that evolves about such personages as Garibaldi, Montessori, Caboto, etc., and for this year 2014 it is about "Italian Americans in Sports: Legends and Icons. While public and civic officials are presenting proclamations and citations declaring this the month ofL'Italianita, Italian Americans can take pride in what they do, how they arrived here in the past and helped to make America what it is today, just as they have in other places such as South America, Canada and Australia.
And so, while the debate goes on about "Columbus NO, Columbus SI," the rest of us are celebrating heritage, language, culture and more. Let the skirmishes and revisionist historians persist, but the facts are the facts, and Columbus DID discover the Americas! We have much to celebrate!
For further information: www.italyculturemonth.org.
*Joseph Sciame – Honored by the Republic of Italy with the rank of Knight Officer in the Order of Merit, is Vice-President for Community Relations at St. John's University, New York. He has been the Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations since 2011, and is a National Past President of the Order Sons of Italy in America.