Italian Heritage has Outgrown the Columbus Myth

Dear Editor:

I respectfully disagree with Albert J. Cupo and John Di Genio (18 June 2020). Governor Murphy is correct; statues honoring Christopher Columbus should be removed. The Italian culture, heritage, and legacy is much more than Columbus. The very idea that Columbus exemplifies the contributions that Italians have made to society is pitiful, painful, poignant and pathetic.

We have stubbornly held on to the myths about Columbus. In reality, Columbus didn’t accomplish anything significant. He didn’t prove that the earth was round. The ancient Greeks had done that, and globes existed in the 15th century. Columbus wasn’t the first European to come to North America; the Vikings had done that some 500 years prior to Columbus’s voyage. Nor did Columbus spearhead the Age of Discovery; Prince Henry of Portugal, also known as Prince Henry the Navigator, has that distinction.

Instead, Columbus was Spain’s first conquistador. He subjugated, exploited, and enslaved the native population. Columbus administered harsh penalties for infractions to his laws. His cruelty toward the indigenous population and to European settlers who dared to defy his governance has been well documented.

Italy has a rich culture and heritage. There are many Italians who have enriched civilization and inspired the world, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Trocta of Salerno, Dante Alighieri, Galileo, Giuseppe Verdi, Enrico Caruso, Guglielmo Marconi, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Enrico Fermi, and Luciano Pavarotti. Of course, this list of notable Italians can continue ad infinitum.

If we want to honor Italian heritage, then we need to build monuments to the artistic beauty, scientific advances, and creative genius that Italians have given the world – sincere, inspirational works of beauty, art, and science which unify people, heal societal wounds, and which enhance humanity and the human spirit.

Lastly, I was amused to the point of laughter when I read that the Dante Alighieri Society opposes the removal of the Columbus statue in Jersey City. It is a shame that the Dante Alighieri Society is unaware of its namesake’s values and principles. Had Dante and Columbus been contemporaries, Dante would have placed Columbus in the Seventh Circle of Hell; a dreadful place reserved for plunderers, conquerors, murderers, and tyrants. Given the atrocities committed by Columbus, the Inferno is the perfect place for him.

It is time for the Italian people to put an end of having one of the worst of “us” represent all of “us.”

Mario Tagliabue