This date (October 12th, or the 2nd Monday in October) doesn't celebrate Columbus' birth or death or commemorate his life in any way. It is the date he is alleged to have landed in the Americas. I understand the reaction to a holiday attached to his name- he did some really bad shit. I get it. And I have zero interest in honoring the man. But what people need to understand is that this day isn't about him. It's about Italian pride. Italians claimed him as a folk-hero because he was the most famous Italian at the time to do something all Americans could appreciate, "discover" America.
Nowadays, we have more information. And we have more heroes of Italian descent. For many years I have proposed changing the name: Other countries celebrate it as The Day of the Americas, so why can't we do that too? Despite others having gotten there first, October 12th, 1492 is the birth date of The New World. Yay Libra!
Columbus Day was celebrated unofficially as early as 1792, the 300th anniversary. In 1892, on the 400th anniversary, it was celebrated in NYC with the now annual parade. So what was a-happenin in 1892? This was the start of the great waves of Italian immigration which would last though the 1940s.
How were Italian Immigrants treated? They were treated well, you think? Are you fucking kidding me?
In the U.S., during the 1800s and early 20th Century, both Jews and Italian immigrants were subject to extreme prejudice, racism, and, in many cases, violence. During this time, both groups were seen as non-Anglo and non-white. In fact, Italian Americans were the second most likely ethnic group to be lynched.
Lynched. Killed. Here's an excerpt from an article on this immigration boom:
Between 1880 and 1920, nearly four million Italians immigrated to the United States (Ital 1). As was the case with most European emigrants during this period, land pressure was the central “push factor” in their emigration. A rising Italian population increased pressure on the land. Between 1861 and 1901 Italy’s population doubled from 6 to 12 million and then increased to 18 million by 1916 (Ital 2). In southern Italy the land problem was most acute, as nearly all the land was owned by small elite who ruthlessly exploited the landless peasants working the land. It is therefore not surprising that the overwhelming majority of Italians who immigrated to the United States came from southern Italy. Indeed, in the decades between 1890 and 1910, about 85% of Italians who immigrated to the United States were from southern Italy.
...The Legion of the Knights of Romulus published Pro Norbis (For Us), a monthly review, which sought to promote Italian culture and to combat the view that Italians were ignorant (Ital 21). This struggle was common among Italian Americans who, as an ethnic group, encountered the greatest bigotry and discrimination of any European ethnic group. In general, the American press portrayed Italians dangerous, cruel, bloodthirsty and lazy (Ital 22).
Surf here for specifics of lynchings. An excerpt:
Six times in the 1890s Italians fell prey to American mob violence. Three of these tragedies happened in Louisiana. The most famous case resulted from the fatal shooting of New Orleans Police Superintendent, David Hennessy, in October 1890. Before he died, the chief reportedly whispered, "The dagos did it." Authorities attributed the crime to the Mafia and soon arrested a score of Italians. After a public meeting in downtown New Orleans on March 14, 1891, an angry mob that included numerous prominent citizens descended upon the city jail, and meeting no resistance, systematically shot or clubbed to death, eleven of the Italian prisoners. When an investigation excused the mob's actions, the Italian government severed diplomatic relations with the United States and briefly contemplated war.
The Knights of Columbus was the answer to the discrimination of groups such as the KKK. Naming the group, and the day, after Columbus was a bid to point out that it was one of us who discovered the land these bigots now enjoy, so stfu and stop discriminating against us, because without us, your bigoted ass wouldn't be here. Basically ;) Quoth the holy wiki:
The name of Columbus was also partially intended as a mild rebuke to Anglo-Saxon Protestant leaders, who upheld the explorer (a Catholic Genovese Italian working for Catholic Spain) as an American hero, yet simultaneously sought to marginalize recent Catholic immigrants. In taking Columbus as their patron, they were sending the message that not only could Catholics be full members of American society, but were, in fact, instrumental in its foundation.As I've said for years, I'm perfectly happy to change the name. The name has outlived its purpose. There is still widespread discrimination against Italians, especially thanks to a culture which places stereotypes on pedestals. The Godfather and The Sopranos and Strega Nona and Cake Boss are all wonderful. However, they're idealized when they're the heightened, dramatized reality. No one really wants to see a movie about my family arguing over dinner. (Do you? I'll get right on that...)
While changing the name is ok with me, taking away this holiday or moving it to another time is not. Don't try to take something away from Italian-Americans, especially our claim to pride on a national level. At least this is a SECULAR holiday, and not one named for some saint who "drove out the snakes" by forcing his religion on everyone in the Irish countryside. Oh, and Patrick was Italian (Roman parents). But I digress!
A day to celebrate Italian Heritage is especially necessary when we need to live down the piece of shit that is Jersey Shore. The best revenge is to erase Columbus from the day, not to remove the element of Italian Pride. Try that and you'll have a lot of pissed off Italians. Including me.
So without further ado, here is a list of Italians and Italian-Americans you can feel good about celebrating tomorrow:
Severo Antonelli (1907–1995) legendary figure in Philadelphia Italian American history and the subject of one of the largest ever one-man shows at the Smithsonian Institution
Antonio Meucci (born 1808) credited by the Congress of the United States with the invention of the telephone.
Charles Joseph Bonaparte, member of Theodore Roosevelt's Cabinet and founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Geraldine Ferraro, (born August 26, 1935), the first woman in U.S. history to be nominated for the Vice-Presidency of the United States from a major political party
Nancy Pelosi, the first woman in U.S. history to hold the office of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Rachael Ray, chef and Emmy-winning television personality
Domenico "Domingo" Ghirardelli, as in the chocolate ;)
Frank Zamboni Hockey wouldn't be the same without him!
The Jacuzzi family developed the deep well water pump that led to the famous whirlpool bath.
With apologies to Adam Sandler, here is my ode to Italian Heritage Day, aka Columbus Day
Pull out the Cabernet,
Here is Columbus day
Celebrate the Italian way
On this auspicious Columbus Day
Columbus Day is la feste d'Italia
It's not about just one man but Italian-American culture
When you feel like the only kid in town who eats Sunday dinner at 3,
Here's a list of Italian-Americans, just like you and me:
Martin Scorcesse waves the triskele,
So does John Travolta, Madonna and Liza Minnelli
Guess who eats together at Sardi's in the city:
Leonardo DiCaprio and James Gandolfini
Hulk Hogan is half Italian; So is Stallone, Rocky's "stallion"
Put them both together--what a huge and ripped Italian!
We don't need meat on Friday or to claim a President
Cause we can tarantella with Alicia Keys and Weird Al Yankovic - Both Italian!
Our ancestors paved the way, it's time for Columbus Day,
The owner of the Baltimore Ravens, hey!- celebrates Columbus Day.
O.j. simpson-- not Italiano!
But guess who is- DHS Director Janet Napolitano
We got Lady Gaga and Peter Criss from KISS
Springsteen's a quarter Italian-- our singers don't miss!
Some people think that "Bugsy" Siegal is,
Well, he's not, but don't you know- Gary Sinise is!
So many Italians are in show biz--
Homer Simpson isn't, but the guy who plays him is! (Dan Castellaneta)
Tell your friend Johnny Ray, it's time to celebrate Columbus Day
I hope I get a raise in pay, on this really great Columbus Day.
So wear your horn every day, and toast with cappuccino today,
If you really, really wanna- hey!, have a happy, happy, happy, happy