By Andre’ DiMino
“Why is Columbus so important to you?” That’s a question I get from many, especially this time of year.
Well, the answer starts in Brooklyn. My parents legally immigrated to America from Sicily, settling in Brooklyn. Then I was born. At that time practically everyone in our part of Bensonhurst was from Sicily, so, not much English was spoken — I only spoke Sicilian!
That was fine until I was 6 and we moved to a small town in New Jersey with relatively few Italian Americans – culture shock! Wanting to fully assimilate, my parents told me not to speak Italian outside the house, which I thought meant something was wrong with being Italian! I later realized it was only their desire for us to fit in and be proud Americans. My father always said, “This is the greatest country in the world,” instilling patriotism in me. But, because my Italian heritage was repressed as a child, as I grew up I strongly reconnected with my Italian heritage.
That brings us back to Christopher Columbus. Italian Americans’ ancestors fled horrible treatment and abject poverty in their homeland. As immigrants to America in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, they suffered racism, discrimination, and marginalization. In 1891, eleven innocent Italian Americans were lynched in the largest lynching in U.S. history, and other lynchings and violent acts proliferated.
In 1892, President Harrison declared the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the “New World” in 1492 would be celebrated as Columbus Day — to counter the negative treatment of Italian Americans so prevalent in those times.
Since then, Columbus has been an iconic symbol to Italian Americans — as an apology and a sign of acceptance into the fabric of America.
Columbus Day commemorations and statues enable us to celebrate our great heritage. For generations, he has symbolized our ancestors’ perseverance in the face of mass discrimination. As a Catholic, there is additional meaning since Columbus dedicated his life to spreading Christianity throughout the world.
Those attacking our country spew untruths about Columbus that have been roundly disputed and debunked using valid, primary sources by scholarly authors like Dr. Mary Grabar, Carole Delaney, and Rafael Ortiz, an author with Indigenous heritage who penned four books defending Columbus.
Attacking Columbus is an attack on Italian Americans, Christianity, Western culture, and America. As a symbol of pride and atonement to Italian Americans, Columbus should be defended as a well-deserved “thanks” for the contributions of Italian Americans to America, as well as for his incredible accomplishment of uniting the continents and changing the world. Don’t allow cancel culture to denigrate our great country with these falsehoods. I will continue defending my Italian heritage, my faith, and our great country.
Andre’ DiMino is an executive board member of the Italian American One Voice Coalition.