Happy Columbus Day!
To many Americans and especially those of us of Italian Heritage, today is indeed a great day of celebration. Did Cristoforo Columbo, navigator and explorer from Genoa Italy who sailed for the Spanish actually discover America? No, of course not! But he helped set sail a course of events that would lead to the founding of this great nation. Anti-American purveyors of guilt-ridden tripe (like Howard Zinn, Hugo Chavez and any number of aging hippy-Marxist professors) have tried to portray the Italian explorer as some sort of villain. Yes, Columbus committed some unenlightened acts. So too did the native peoples who inhabited the Americas before Columbus and other European explorers' arrival in North and South America. Its the nature of man-all men. Europeans don't have a franchise on bad behavior (read your Asian, African, and Native histories too). And surely if the Europeans hadn't laid out the foundations for the modern nation state in the Americas, the Chinese probably would have, following a course much similar to the Spanish, English, French, Dutch and Portuguese. But I digress-
Columbus is a hero to we Italian Americans because he represents a spirit so many of us possess-especially our immigrant forefathers and mothers- a drive to set off to the unknown to better ourselves through discovery, labor and self-realization. Much like this World Hiker. According to Claudia L. Bushman in her academic piece, "America Discovers Columbus, How An Italian Explorer became an American Hero," that neither paints Columbus in an overtly negative or positive portrait:
Columbus as a hero gave legitimacy and prestige to ethnic and religious immigrant groups struggling to become part of the American nation.
New York City home of the largest population of Italian Americans first recognized Columbus Day in 1792 and began celebrating it in the mid-1800s. San Francisco was the second major American city to do so (you'd never know now, would you?) FDR signed Columbus Day as a national holiday. In my home state of Connecticut with roughly 20% of its people claiming Italian heritage, monuments commemorating the explorer abound including a Christopher Columbus Memorial Highway .
Columbus was just one of many great explorers who helped set the course for this great nation to develop. Grazie mio paesano.
And for miei amici in Canada, Happy Thanksgiving. And I believe it was another great Italian explorer, John Cabot (aka Giavanni Caboto) who helped to "discover" your great nation. Salute!