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A Proposal to the Italian Americans for a More Inclusive Columbus Day Parade

We should not be surprised if Christopher Columbus arouses the same love-hate feelings of the most famous individuals in history

Bill de Blasio durante la Columbus Day Parade sulla Quinta Avenue, nel 2013 (Foto VNY)

The Columbus Citizens' Foundation and other leaders could continue to call the parade the “Columbus Day Parade.” Likewise, the Foundation and other Italian Americans leaders could also approach the Hispanic community in New York to explore a possible merging of the "El Día de la Raza."

I. Premise

  1. Most famous historic individuals are controversial. For example, Julius Caesar was murdered for having been too successful in his political and military careers. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified for inspiring hope of an everlasting soul salvation. We should not be surprised if Christopher Columbus arouses the same love-hate feelings and controversy.
  2. The revision of history serves us to revisit our ancestors’ acts and behaviors. It serves us to compare their actions based upon our present moral values, hoping to learn something useful and accordingly modify our own behavior for the better. Those who read this type history with the purpose of condemning and destroying what they do not like, will only lead to a Talibanization-mentality that leads us to violence and destruction of human heritage. Why should we erase from memory acts of Europeans cruelties perpetrated against peoples throughout the world; or the

    The Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano during his visit to the Columbus Statue in Columbus Circle, New York,September 22, 2017 (Ph. VNY)

    practice of slavery or the actions of Pre-Colombian Native Americans of the Incas, the Mayas, and the Aztecs who perpetrated harsh human treatments, such as sexual mutilations and sacrificial decapitations of slaves and other violence against their own people? Were we to erase bad memories and events, including statues and holidays, we would, at the same time, destroy our human, though imperfect, history and progress. According to revisionist historians, Christopher Columbus was a violent and criminal monster that we need to hate, condemn and strike down. They use selective examples, even distorting them in order to evaluate his deeds while he governed the First Colony in America for only 7 years, which include his absences during his third and fourth voyages to America. They attribute to Columbus all the abuses his contemporary and future European soldiers and conquistadores perpetrated against the Natives. However, even if, as they say, Columbus did anything violent, he must have done it according to some previously agreed upon rules to keep order in the colony. After all, as Commander of soldiers and indigenous people who came under his domain, and as a Viceroy and the Governor of Santo Domingo, he was directly responsible to the King of Spain. In fact, at one point, Columbus was accused of “tyranny” and Administrative “incompetence,” and was ordered by the same king to be arrested and taken in chains to Spain. Envious Spanish soldiers and higher-ranking officers were, the first but not the last, detractors of Columbus’ courageous and seamanship, and his intrepid success of land discoveries for Spain. Despite their accusations, The Spanish Court, and the King of Spain himself, absolved him by restoring his titles and by granting and sponsoring his third and fourth voyages to America.  Human history, unfortunately for us, is full of inhumane acts and cruelty. Today’s revisionists rely mainly on those unproven and dismissed charges against Columbus that those early cowardly and envious detractors trumped-up against him.  Christopher Columbus, the individual man, as far as this writer has been able to read, never killed one single human soul, neither while he was in Europe, nor when he was in the Americas. The Zinn Organization, which has created very active educational projects against White Supremacy and against Columbus in particular, responsible for “Abolish Columbus Day Parade,” slogan, clearly states and had to admit the following:

There is no evidence that Columbus personally captured slaves or killed anyone with his own hands.

  1. Nevertheless, neither our feelings nor the revision of history can deny his importance in the annals of unique human events. Caesar started a new chapter in the Roman history that had great consequences throughout Europe. Jesus gave new hope to the destitute and the powerless. Columbus proved in fact, not in theory only, that the world was indeed round, that a person could reach the East by navigating toward West; and equally as important, his findings caused the exploration of a new and vast continent, yet unknown up to then to the European, African, and the Asiatic peoples. Christopher Columbus’ finding of unknown lands by the Europeans, Africans and Asians, for good or bad, began the steps by which all earthly humans that had been thereto for separated, to be finally united. Furthermore, he initiated an enormous exodus flow of millions of afflicted people from around the Old World to come to the New, giving them new hope in life, a flow of migrants that is still in progress today, 524 years later.
  2. The uniting of the two cultures created an inevitable clash between the two civilizations with the tragic usual end that the stronger dominated the weaker one, to the point of enslaving, and even killing them. According to some historians, there were acts of “complete genocide” against humanity in the Caribbean (Morison, 1995). However, even a revisionist, historian, James Loewen, points out that Morison, among the many “proofs” he presents, only one major history text mentions Christopher Columbus. In addition, historian Noble David Cook recites,

There were too few Spaniards to have killed the millions [of Native Americans] who were reported to have died in the first century after Old and New World contact.” (Cook, 1998).

According yet to others, the main cause of “genocide” was due to disease, which affected the Natives with an estimated 80 to 90% fatality rate. (Arthur C. Aufderheide et al, 1998). Furthermore, the diseases went both ways. Columbus’ Spanish soldiers, including Columbus himself, brought back to Europe syphilis, and tobacco addiction, which destroyed untold millions of Europeans also. (Harper, 2008).

Even today, unfortunately, we are not out of the woods yet. Mankind is now capable of destroying the entire animal and the vegetative worlds, with only a few thermonuclear bombs. In light of this (without minimizing their importance), old cruelties become pale before this present real new threat of human and world annihilation.

  1. The history of “Columbus Day Commemoration”, briefly, has a past already. It began at the turn of the 20th Century, mainly in South America, where the Idea began in Argentina as “the Union…. To pay homage to the Memory of the immortal Christopher Columbus,” … and… “To bring about the intimate spiritual existence common among the discovering and civilizing nation [Spain], and those [nations] formed on the American soil.” (Wikipedia: in Spanish: “Día de la Raza”).

In 1914 it became: “Fiesta de la Raza Española,” commemoration of the Spanish Heritage in the Americas (Translation is mine). Two years later, it became simply “Día de la Raza. ” In 2007, it became “The Day of Respect and Cultural Diversity.” In Nicaragua it became  “Día de la Raza,” then, “Día de la Hispanidad” and lastly, (as in Venezuela), “Día de la Resistencia Indigena,” (Day of the Indigenous Resistance). Note that this title is replete with Communist ideology and its interests of keeping the indigenous people happy while, at the same time, doing nothing for them. In the United States, not all the States commemorate the Discovery of America.  In 1934, the influential Angelo Noce, of the Knights of Columbus and Generoso Pope, the founder of the Columbus Citizens’ Foundation, responsible for instituting the Columbus Day Parade in New York City, were successful in convincing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to make it an Official Federal “Columbus Day” Holiday. It was much later, 1992, that the City of Berkeley, California named it as the “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”  In 2016, the State of Vermont called it, likewise, “the Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” Only last month, the City of Los Angeles copycatted and called it the “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” The history honoring the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, notwithstanding all this, has not seen the final chapter yet. However, no matter what they call it, the reality is that Christopher Columbus remains attached to the “discovery of America” by Europe. Just ask any child around the world.

orologi colombo renzo piano

Genoa representation at Columbus Day parade.

  1. There is no denying that the first Europeans landing in the Americas treated the Natives with extreme cruelty by enslaving them, even though Spanish law prohibited that practice; modern scholarship also points out that bacteria and viruses decimating 80-90% of native lives, even as the Europeans were appropriating for themselves their riches and their lands. And that, this cruelty continued up until recent times, in South America as well as in North America.
  2. It should be of no surprise to anyone that the landing of Columbus represents for Native Americans a tragic beginning that they had not expected, imagined or deserved. The Spanish and later the North Americans often promised lands and freedoms, only to be routinely denied now and again.
  3. Unfortunately for Italian Americans, Columbus still stands for strong resentments from the Native people’s part, and from the subsequent victims, the African Black slaves. Therefore, it should not surprise us if Native, or Black Americans of this Country want no part of Columbus celebrations or honoring him with statues: A dilemma that persists unresolved. Since it’s in the Italian blood and deep traditions to put up statues, it may well fall to the Italian Americans to turn this challenge into an extraordinarily reconciliatory opportunity with good deeds towards Native, and Black Americans: Deeds that call for approaching them without empty promises or trickeries, as it was done in the past. We need to convince them that the ugly past cannot be changed with hate, retaliation or vengeance. We need to make them realize that Italy never had any colony or, slaves, in the Americas. Likewise, Italian Americans never had any say about slavery or the gross transgressions against Native and Black Americans had to endure from the Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, English, and even from the new American people during the East to West territorial expansion. If we were to explain these facts properly to them, they might conclude as we do, that there are benefits to improving our behaviors by a rapprochement in order to move on harmoniously with the rest of the world. We, and Resented Americans, could have a good chance to begin achieving the reconciliation of the cultures, aimed toward a better and brighter future we all deserve.

II. Proposal to the Columbus Citizens’ Foundation Regarding the Columbus Day Parade in New York City

  1. A) It is clear that in the past, the Columbus Citizens’ Foundation, intent in creating pride within the Italian American community, organized parades and raised statues, totally ignoring the Native American plight, without recognizing that Columbus created deep resentments within the Native American psyche. Now that the Foundation is acutely aware that Columbus represents the “Europeans” (not just Columbus’) presence and their deeds and abuses in America, it, the Foundation, and the other associations responsible of organizing the Columbus parades, should reconsider continuing doing business as usual, by continuing to offend concerned American People.
  2. Let us transform as soon as possible the Columbus Day Parade from representing selfishly the Italian Americans only. As we know, Columbus still today affects all Americans in one way or other; and Native, as well as Black and White Americans, are closely linked with Columbus. Therefore, let us convert the Columbus Day Holiday into an all-inclusive commemoration; perhaps the Foundation should take the lead to approach Native American, and the other representatives to find out what we can do to repair their distrusting Christopher Columbus, especially distrusting us, Italian Americans. This writer believes that in the near future, if the Foundation were to demonstrate sincere facts and deeds, such as, for example, offering all Americans a place in the parade. The approach done in good faith should not further offend anyone. A possible inclusion of Native and Black and other White Americans willing to march with us would constitute a tremendous first step toward rapprochement, and the Columbus landfall event, would constitute joining of the three or four cultures, and the final global unification of human beings.
  3. The Italian American community, perhaps, as a second step, (1) Could show good intentions by paying for and erecting first-class Carrara marble statues in honor of Native and Black American Heroes.
  4. The Foundation and other leaders (2) could continue to call the parade the “Columbus Day Parade.” After all, it is still a Federal Holiday, and it is totally sponsored by private Italian American organizations.
  5. Likewise, the Foundation and other Italian Americans leaders (3) could also approach the Hispanic community in New York to explore a possible merging of the “El Día de la Raza,” which also honors the Discovery of America, and it, likewise, celebrates, unfortunately still independently, the same festivity.
  6. Why not (4) merge even the names from the “Columbus day parade” and the “El día de la Raza” into something less offensive, such as the “The Landfall of Columbus in America, and the Indigenous American Festivities.” Why not (5) join these two parades into one, for the greater glory of the “Admiral of the Ocean Sea?” To turn it into something that all Americans, still today owe him their living in this magnificent new American land?

III.  One Possible Future Parade’s Order:

If it were up to this writer, he would set the following logical parade physical order: Christopher Columbus at the very front of the Parade to signify the person who made all this possible. The Taino, or Arawak Native Americans, and/or any Central American natives.
Any North American Natives (Mayan, Aztec, North American Natives).
Any South American natives. All Black American associations willing to participate.
Any/ all European nations in an alphabetical order, excluding the Italian and Italian American contingencies.

The New York City personnel, floats, bands and other officials strategically dispersed throughout the March. The final group should be the Italian and Italian American floats, personalities and contingencies of all sorts. Respectfully submit this proposal for consideration, debate and adoption of this, or similarly minded proposals to the Columbus Citizens’ Foundation, and to all other Italian American leaders responsible to organize the Columbus day Parade.

 

September 6, 2017

OPEN LETTER

To Leaders Responsible for

Organizing Columbus Day Parades.

Christopher Columbus has thick skin and is impervious to adversity.  Even while he was alive, envious detractors had him arrested on charges for “tyranny” and colonial administrative “incompetence”. Arrested and chained, Columbus was brought back to Spain to face the charges. The Court of Justice and King Ferdinand, having heard both sides, absolved him of all charges, and restored his titles. After that, the king still financed two of Columbus’ subsequent voyages of discovery in the newly found lands. Today, revisionists rely on those old trumped-up charges and ignore the fact that the severe laws of Spain, at that time (and his peers), heard the charges and dismissed them.

I am confident that Admiral Columbus will out last today’s unjust accusations laid down by revisionist historians and naïve or politically motivated people. At the same time, however, it is time that the Italian American community woke up to extreme criticism. Perhaps it is time to make some changes from our part and be more understanding toward Native and Black Americans who had not expected, nor deserved so much European (not Columbus’) hunger for gold, land, and dominance in the newly found Continent.

I am submitting a proposal with the hope that it may produce, after due discussions and deliberations, a more inclusive policy, especially when it comes to organizing the Columbus Day Parade in New York, and elsewhere.

Sincerely,

Cav. Vito De Simone, Ph.D.

Co-Founder and Past President of The Association of Italian American Educators

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