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In America’s “Novel”, Italian-Americans and Columbus Are “Cheated” and “Beaten”

From slavery to genocide, the US has constructed a national history full of myths and hypocrisy, and ended up screwing even the innocent “paisa’”

columbus day parade

An Italian American enjoying the Columbus Day Parade on NYC's Fifth Ave

In Italiano

It’s almost like a Pirandello play: loves and hatreds, admiration and disdain for a similar situation, but seen from different points of view, simply to remind us that absolute truth does not exist. And this very sick America, angry and instigated, takes it out on its symbols, its memories, its past–but not with all of it. It becomes justicialist and Jacobin, iconoclast and irreverent. It does a superficial historical analysis, judges heroes, businesses, military commanders and political leaders, cherry-picking and making choices that are both hypocritical and convenient. Thus, it remembers suddenly that this country was born out of slavery, neglecting, however that this, in the scale of infamy, is “less worse” than the genocide of the indigenous populations perpetrated by the Founders of the Nation. A Country that invents for itself with President Lincoln, a “Thanksgiving” that places Native Americans and Pilgrims at the same table, celebrating together, when we know very well that the reality was quite different.

Poor Christopher Columbus, Renaissance navigator not taken seriously by anybody except for Spain, home of Torquemada’s Inquisition. He thought of navigating and exploring, and thus reaching the Indies. He made a mistake, and gifted his enterprise to a country that between pillages and massacres, “civilized” the indigenous population.

Boston: the Christopher Columbus statue in the North End was beheaded, June 10, 2020. (WBZ-TV)

The statues of Columbus are destroyed, but those of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, landowners and slave owners, are defended. Those of the Confederate generals are taken down, while we honor those of the presidents of the American Indian Wars, a war that caused incalculable massacres.

In Indiana, in the little town of Vincennes, about 130 miles south of Indianapolis, there is the home-museum of William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States. His was but a very short presidency: he died of typhoid fever one month after his inauguration. In a room of his house-museum, are shown his military feats of the time that he was governor of the Indiana Territory, and in particular the battle of Tippecanoe with the massacre of the Shawnee. And then we also find statues of Andrew Jackson scattered pretty much throughout the United States. Maybe the most famous is that in Lafayette Square in Washington, DC. But how many Americans remember that he was the president of the “Trail of Tears”, in which 60 thousand Cherokee Indians were forcibly deported onto reservations? And four thousand died on the way.

Mount Rushmore, Sud Dakota: le sculture dei presidenti (da sin) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt e Abraham Lincoln

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota: the sculptures of American Presidents: (from left:) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt e Abraham Lincoln

The America of the Pioneers had understood that in order to grow, to attract the masses of farmers from Europe, it had to change its image, to hide the blood of the expropriations and to don the gala dress to the European palaces. The land of the Indians was sold to anyone that wanted to cultivate it, but in order to do this America needed to make a good impression, and mingle in the important social lounges of the courts.

John Adams, future president of the United States, was the first ambassador of the former colony to the Court of St. James. Benjamin Franklin was the first American Ambassador to Paris, and John Jay to Madrid. The US had remained tied both in traditions and language to London, while France and Spain were the two nations bordering England to the North and to the South of the country.  One of the most authoritative ambassadors sent to Spain was Washington Irving, an all-purpose diplomat and excellent writer of science fiction. He was the inventor of Santa Claus in his “Knickerbocker Santa Claus.” His are the science fiction and horror tales in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”; but he also wrote “The History and Voyage of Christopher Columbus” published in 1828. Here the voyage and the undertaking of Christopher Columbus got the novelistic treatment. They were magnified and beautified, creating an aura of romanticism and of courage, of optimism and kindness. A fantasy tale that had enormous success but that was in total contrast to the reality of facts. Nevertheless Irving got his results by captivating the masses that because of famines and persecutions, abandoned their own country of origin.

Governor Andrew Cuomo during Columbus Day Parade

With Columbus, there was the celebration of the victory of the Catholics over the Protestants, and above all for the poor Italian immigrants, he was the incarnation of the hero and the redemption of all the insults and the deprivations that they were subjected to at that time. It was as if to say to the Americans that if they existed at all, it was thanks to an Italian who had discovered their continent. In Denver, Colorado, Angelo Noce and Sirio Mangini established a bar in 1873, the “Christopher Columbus Hall”, where every October 12th they held a great feast. And there the myth of Columbus took root and propagated itself, thanks to the Sons of Italy, the Knights of Columbus, and the battles of Generoso Pope. Finally, in 1968 Congressman Frank Annunzio, after a battle that was not so easy, managed to have Columbus Day proclaimed a federal holiday.

We have been mugged, robbed of a dream, of a success. We have believed the romanticized truth of Washington Irving. Who knows if it will be the same even among the other great protagonists of the romantic novel that is America..…

Translation by Salvatore Rotella


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