Community takes fight for Columbus to next level

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Jan. 14, 2021, was a landmark day for the Chicago-area Italian-American community. That’s when we took a quantum leap forward in our efforts to undo the false narrative that threatens to permanently sweep Christopher Columbus from the local landscape.

We’ve had great turnouts at press conferences, strategy sessions and rallies, but this was the first time we “entered the lion’s den,” and we comported ourselves admirably. The occasion was a Zoom meeting sponsored by the city of Chicago to field input regarding the future of the city’s many statues, Columbus’ among them.

With key decision makers from the city slated to participate, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans put out a call to the presidents of its member organizations, and they turned out in force. Their faces filled one whole computer screen to capacity and flowed onto the next.

It was a truly heartwarming sight: more than two dozen community leaders representing thousands of dues-paying members and tens of thousands of family members and friends by extension. The implied numbers alone had to give city officials food for thought.

We were all there to express our devotion to the Admiral of the Ocean Sea and state the case for preserving his day and restoring his statues to their rightful place on pedestals throughout Chicago.

Our point of view was ably represented by more than half a dozen local and national spokespeople. They refuted the false claims against Columbus, revealed the hardships our community has faced, explained why Columbus is so important to us and lobbied for his reinstatement among the pantheon of our nation’s heroes.

A movement was launched that day, but we still have a long journey ahead of us. We’re sailing against a powerful current of misinformation that has been gathering force for decades, and one productive encounter with municipal authorities alone can’t possibly turn the tide.

Representatives from the city didn’t utter a single disparaging word against Columbus, and they made it clear that all points of view would be factored into their final decision. But it was also clear from their presentations that the odds are stacked against Columbus and that a herculean effort will be required to even those odds. This battle will be just as fraught on the county, state and national levels.

The key to success is education, education, education, and not just of elected and appointed officials, but also of the media and community at large. Because let’s face it, the truth may be on our side, but if the majority of the electorate and its influencers believe otherwise, the final vote will go against us.

The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans and the National Columbus Education Foundation are hard at work charting the most effective course for our community, but it’s going to require all of us to get on board. It’s incumbent upon every Italian American to know the true story of Columbus and be prepared to compassionately share it with friends, colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances who have been suffering under a false impression for far too long.

You can start your personal journey by visiting franoi.com and clicking Columbus on the main navigation bar. A wealth of information can be found therein. I’ll distill the key points into a couple of pithy pages and publish them in the April issue.

The voyage we’re about to embark upon won’t be easy. It will require plenty of preparation, loads of hard work and the courage of our convictions — not unlike the qualities possessed by an intrepid navigator we know and admire. He sailed into the unknown and changed the world five centuries ago. It’s high time we map our course, load our ships, weigh anchor and go forth in force to do the same.

The above appears in the March 2021 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

 

About Paul Basile

Paul Basile has been the editor of Fra Noi for a quarter of a century. Over that period, he and his dedicated family of staff members and correspondents have transformed a quaint little community newspaper into a gorgeous glossy magazine that is read and admired across the nation. They also maintain a cluster of national and local websites and are helping other major metropolitan areas launch their own versions of Fra Noi.

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One comment

  1. Since saving Columbus is urgent, one direct approach would be to request a commitment from political candidates to commit to support Columbus day in advance. This can be a condition of Italian American support or non support for the candidates in the larger Italian community. When they get the message that votes are at stake it may make a difference. The commitments or non commitments should be publicized in our organizational newsletters and publications. That may give us a stronger voice. This was recently done in Sacramento, California for two local elections. one candidate in each election committed support for Columbus Day. One of them won. and the other came close. It was a fresh start in preparing for the future.

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