To the Editor:
Recent efforts have been launched to rescind Columbus Day. I, speaking on behalf of the Dante Alighieri Society, firmly believe that the voyages of Christopher Columbus represent a tremendous human achievement. Collectively, they symbolize a documented “first encounter.” That being said, the importance of Columbus’s voyages should not be – should never be – trivialized. For that reason, The Dante Alighieri Society fully supports the continuation of Columbus Day as a recognized holiday.
Columbus Day was first celebrated in New York in 1792, the 300th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage. A century later, Congress designated Columbus Day a national holiday to be celebrated each October 12; and, in 1971, Columbus Day became a federal holiday observed on the second Monday of October. Throughout the years, Italian-Americans, Hispanics, and other groups have embraced Columbus Day as a special occasion to celebrate –and commemorate – their culture and ethnic heritage.
Please keep in mind, the Dante Alighieri Society is not in any way attempting to diminish the tragedies that happened during Columbus’s voyages to the New World. However, for many individuals, the journeys of Christopher Columbus epitomize the voyages of – and to – freedom. Perhaps, taking it a step further, Columbus’s voyages collectively represent the start of the globalization of our world. Unfortunately, significant historical events often encompass both, benefits and consequences.
Columbus has become a controversial figure. Many proudly proclaim that Columbus was a visionary who opened up a new land of opportunity for the oppressed masses of Europe. Others see him as an avaricious opportunist who massacred and spread disease among the indigenous people and institutionalized the slave trade.
Columbus was a man of his time. He operated under a different set of assumptions, principles, and norms. Consequently, we should be extremely cautious and hesitant about applying 21st-century thinking to the prevailing moral standards of 15th century Europe.
Columbus has been an inspiration to all immigrants: People from far-away lands who possess the courage and determination to take a chance – to start over – by coming to the New World with only a glimmer of hope and a sincere desire for a better future for themselves and their posterity.
Columbus was not about conquest; he was no “conquistador.” His persistence to obtain support for a risky seafaring enterprise yielded results that went beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. He opened a New World with unlimited potential and possibilities. For those reasons, we commemorate Christopher Columbus on the second Monday in October. His ingenuity, intensity, and imagination have fosterered a period of discovery and “break throughs” that are still very much alive today.
Albert J. Cupo
President, Dante Alighieri Society