The Chicago-area Italian-American community was dealt a devastating series of blows in the waning days of July. It’s impossible to express the damage done to our collective psyche when Chicago’s three Columbus statues were plucked by the city from their pedestals in the wee hours of the morning and whisked off to storage.
According to Mayor Lightfoot, the moves were made in the interest of public safety and are only temporary, but a profound sense of betrayal and loss remains. The question is, how do we most effectively respond? As Fra Noi goes to press, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans is convening at the Old Neighborhood Italian American Club to craft a strategy, the details of which will be published in the October issue. In the meantime, bold action is already afoot on the national level.
After 40 years of controlling the narrative, Columbus bashers are finally in for a major pushback. According to their version of history, Columbus was a genocidal fiend who slaughtered thousands, enslaved hundreds and abused native workers. This illusion has been conjured through an alchemy of outright lies and artful manipulation of historical documents.
In reality, Columbus admired the peaceful tribe he first encountered; never killed or ordered the death of a native without provocation; sent prisoners of war — not slaves —to Spain after countering an attack by a warlike tribe; and did his best to halt the abuse of native workers once he discovered it.
Europe’s encounter with native populations would have played out quite differently if Columbus and his like had been at the helm throughout and their men had actually listened to them. His opponents, however, have chosen to demonize him, lumping him together with the worst of the colonizers who arrived in his wake.
They’ve spoon fed their noxious brew to educators, elected officials and journalists, too many of whom have swallowed it whole with nary a fact check and spread the misinformation to the general public. As a result, Columbus is on the verge of being relegated to the trash heap of history. Also being swept away are his monumental accomplishments as an explorer and his pivotal role in uplifting our community during our darkest hour.
Until recently, we’ve sat back and blithely assumed that the truth would prevail, but the rising tide of anti-Columbus sentiment has shaken us from our complacency.
The Italian American One Voice Committee was the first into the breach on the national level. For several years now, this tireless advocacy group has staged press conferences, mounted email campaigns, and appeared before city councils in response to efforts across the country to eliminate Columbus Day and remove statues in his honor. To find out more, visit iaovc.org.
And just last month, five of the nation’s largest Italian-American organizations pooled their resources and joined the fray.
The Columbus Citizens Foundation (CCF), Italians Sons and Daughters of America, National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), Order of the Sons and Daughters of Italy, and UNICO National have banded together in an unprecedented show of unity to fund the National Columbus Education Foundation.
“As the community most closely associated with Columbus and Columbus Day, we felt it was our civic duty to present and defend the other side of the story,” foundation President Angelo Vivolo says. “We have to ask ourselves why the majority of the sources are being ignored and repressed while one of the oldest American holidays and first American heroes is summarily wiped away without any objective conversation.”
The groups have already run an ad in the Washington Times calling on Congress and President Trump to reaffirm their commitment to Columbus Day and honor the great explorer’s importance to our community. They’ve also created a website — KnowColumbus.org — that will soon be brimming with the facts needed to launch a broad-based informational counteroffensive.
They’re facing an uphill battle of herculean proportions. But given how much our community has overcome in our fraught history, my money is on us.
The above appears in the September 2020 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.