This will be the first time in three years that Philadelphia’s Columbus Day Parade will be marching past a visible statue of its namesake.
The past few editions of the celebration forced Italian Americans in the city to look up at the proud example of our heritage, encased in a vertical wooden sarcophagus, courtesy of bigots and historical fabulists aligned with our current mayor, James “I Can’t Wait ‘Til I’m Outta Here” Kenney. It’s so offensive and outrageous that if you suggested anything similar was possible even ten years ago, you’d be told to visit Naples, in no uncertain terms.
But we are coming out of an age where the impossible was obligatory, where madness was received wisdom, and where prejudice was wrapped up in deceptive terms like “cultural appropriation.” We are not yet out of that dark wood — not by a long shot. But at least we are beginning to look at the people who did this to us, who subjected us to this repellent crash course in groupthink and brainwashing, with anger. In my own case, there is a good bit of hatred mixed in, along with a vow never to forget what they did.
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The people who, like Kenney, tried to strip Italian Americans of our rightful pride in our roots and our heritage are not honest dealers. Whether they truly believe the myth that Christopher Columbus was a genocidal maniac (and most don’t because most aren’t even well-read enough to crack open a history book without pictures), the crusade to not only erase Columbus but also raise up this amorphous concept of “Indigenous Peoples” to the same level of significance in our society was dangerous.
History is not “written by the victorious,” as some argue with a disingenuous smirk on their faces. History simply “is,” and we are free to view it through our own Rashomonic lenses, but that doesn’t change the facts.
Columbus did not commit genocide, even though many people died during his voyages to the New World. The dead include many of his own crewmen, who were infected by diseases they picked up from the very “indigenous” who were their alleged victims. It is also true that Columbus did not mean to discover “a new world” and was simply attempting to find a quicker trade route for his patrons, Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. Nonetheless, he “found” the New World, which had been draped in darkness while the light of the Renaissance was beginning to burst across Europe. And no, he was not the first person to actually “see” this land, something my Scandinavian ancestors are eager to clarify (my Swedish great-grandmother always winced when I’d talk about going to the Columbus Day parade). But the Italian explorer was the first to actually set foot on the land and make use of that discovery in ways that changed the course of Western civilization.
Progressives have no actual sense of irony, which makes them even more dangerous than they would otherwise be.
The rush to rename the holiday “Indigenous Peoples Day” is an insult to the many tribes and races that occupied this land before Columbus arrived. They were “indigenous” to the land in the sense that they were here before we were here. But they are not a homogeneous group, and lumping them together just to spite Italian Americans is a slap in the face to the rich traditions each of these groups practiced.
And not to put too fine a point on it, but one of these rich traditions was cannibalism, so let’s dispense with the idea that they were peaceful angels who were slaughtered by the evil Europeans. In many cases, they gave as good as they got.
Columbus Day was established as a reaction to the lynching of eleven Italians in New Orleans in 1891. President Benjamin Harrison declared the holiday one year later, and as a friend noted to me, it was not just to honor Italians but to pay tribute to all immigrants who were being oppressed and discriminated against in the United States. So it is more than a little ironic that a holiday dedicated to those who abandoned their homes to find a new life and a new world has been replaced by a holiday dedicated to people who never left their native lands. Of course, progressives have no actual sense of irony, which makes them even more dangerous than they would otherwise be. To them, everything is dead serious and literal.
I will be marching by the unveiled Columbus Statue this Sunday. I will not be with any organized group, but I don’t need to be. My membership card in the tribe was signed and sealed at my birth, on the day my Italian-American mother brought me into this world, a world that would not have existed had it not been for the gentleman standing proudly on that pedestal.
Happiest of Columbus Days to all of you.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61