LETTER: Changing The Name Of Columbus Day Shows A Disregard For The Achievements & Contributions Of Italian Americans

Dear Editor,

Why Columbus? Why not?

The connection between the Italian Americans and Columbus is a complicated story that goes back to the 19th century. In the 1870s and 80s many Italians immigrated to the United States for a multitude of economic reason. Almost 87% of the immigrants coming from Italy came from the southern part of Italy after the war of unification which left the South in shambles both economically and commercially.

Upon arriving to the United States, instead of a land of riches, and peace they found for the most part, squalor, tenement living, disease and extreme prejudice. They were called degos, wops, or guineas.

In 1892 in New Orleans a police chief was shot and killed. His last words were “The wops did it”. So, in their bigoted fervor to catch the killer of their beloved police chief the citizens of New Orleans rounded up many new immigrants to New Orleans most who were Sicilians. Of that roundup, 11 were put on trial for murder. They were acquitted, but for their own safety, held in jail overnight until the anger of the crowd could subside. Instead, the crowd formed a mob, broke into the police station, dragged the 11 innocent men from jail and lynched them. For days after, throughout New Orleans, Italian immigrant were beaten or killed. In response to this, future Pres. Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying that this was rather a good thing. The New York Times said, “let this be a warning to other Italian immigrants.”

In response to this outrage the newly unified country of Italy pulled its ambassador and a diplomatic crisis ensued. To avoid further hostilities to ease tensions with Italy and appease the Italian American immigrant President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day October 12th as a holiday in recognition for the achievements and contributions of the Italian American.

Unfortunately, the Italian American citizen in this country continued to experience discrimination until the 1970s. The Watergate tapes show that, Pres Nixon is Quoted: Nixon: “The Italians. We mustn’t forget the Italians. Must do something for them., we forget them. They’re not, , they’re not like us. The difference is they smell different, they look different, act differently. After all, you can’t blame them. Oh no. Can’t do that. They’ve never had the things we’ve had”. Ehrlichman: “That’s right.” Nixon: “Of course, the trouble is. . . the trouble is, you can’t find one that’s honest.” (1973, Watergate Tapes)

Even now in the 21st century politicians think the politically correct thing to do is to remove Columbus Day as a holiday because of crimes that Columbus may or may not have committed in the 15th century. School boards county government and city governments again show disregard for the Italian American citizen and immigrant and their contributions to this country. Instead renamed that day indigenous people day, when there is already an Indigenous People Day in August and a Native American heritage month in November. Would it be so hard to continue recognizing the contribution of the Italian American in this country by if you want to remove Columbus at least adding another Italian American who has done good to this country or naming it Italian American Heritage Day. So, you ask Why Columbus Day unless you recognize the Italian American contribution. The better question Is WHY NOT?


Lennie Malvone

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