The New York City Department of Education took a giant step backwards when it re-designated Columbus Day as “Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous Peoples Day.” This endeavor simply represents the latest effort to eliminate Columbus Day. When one thinks about it, Columbus Day is a holiday for everyone; it is not just an “Italian thing.” Throughout the years, Italian-Americans, Hispanics, and other groups have embraced this holiday as an occasion to celebrate and commemorate their culture and ethnic heritage.
The voyages of Christopher Columbus represent a tremendous human achievement. Collectively, they symbolize a documented “first encounter.” For many, the journeys of Christopher Columbus epitomize the voyages of – and to – freedom and a better life. Columbus has been an endearing and enduring inspiration to all immigrants: People from far-away lands who possess the courage and determination to take a chance by coming to the New World with only a glimmer of hope and a desire for a more rewarding future for themselves and their posterity. Never before have so many owed so much to just one man – Christopher Columbus.
Columbus has become a controversial figure; and, that controversy – many times fanned by political winds – has tarnished the seafarer’s reputation. Many proudly proclaim that Columbus was a visionary who opened up a new land of opportunity for the oppressed masses of Europe. Others view Columbus with a jaundiced eye; specifically, they see him as an avaricious opportunist who massacred and spread disease among the indigenous people and institutionalized the slave trade. Without doubt, there are those who would like to see Columbus erased from the annals of history.
Columbus operated under a different set of assumptions, principles, convictions, and traditions – societal norms which would be offensive by modern standards. Consequently, we should be very careful about applying 21st- century thinking to the prevailing morality of the 15th and 16th centuries. As with all the great figures of the past, we need a much deeper understanding of the person’s flaws. But we shouldn’t forget the tremendous changes that were made – changes that benefitted humanity as a whole.
Christopher Columbus wasn’t about conquest; he was no conquistador. Nor should Columbus’s voyages be trivialized! Columbus’s persistence to obtain support for a risky enterprise yielded results that went well beyond anyone’s imagination. He opened a New World with unlimited potential and possibilities. Columbus’s voyages gave hope for the less fortunate, for the downtrodden, and for the huddled masses. For those reasons, we should continue to commemorate Christopher Columbus on the second Monday in October. His ingenuity, imagination, and inspiration have fostered a period of discovery that is still very much alive today.
Albert J. Cupo, President
John Di Genio
The Dante Alighieri Society, Jersey City
Albert J. and John Cupo and Di Genio