Columbus Day is not a holiday the U.S. — and Italian Americans — should celebrate

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Columbus Day honors Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. But he does no glory to Italian Americans — or anyone else.
As an Italian American tyke, I was proud to celebrate Columbus Day. It didn't merit the attention that St. Patrick's Day got in my Catholic school, with the Irish dancing, shamrocks and green cupcakes. But it still mattered. One of my ancestors discovered America. How cool was that?

It's difficult to give up the myths that shaped the Italian story in the Americas. But these myths are holding us back.

Turns out the Irish had the better role model. No matter how you look at it, Columbus is not somebody we Italians should honor. And we should quit our efforts to salvage a holiday that brings us no glory while reinforcing the pain of the descendants of the people he exploited.

The historical record that has emerged over time is quite clear. Although Columbus was a skilled navigator, he mistakenly thought he could find a fast route to India and China by sailing West, and convinced the Spanish monarchs to bankroll his expedition.

Instead, he landed in the Bahamas and encountered the Taino people. When he met them, he wrote in his journal that these peaceful Indigenous people had the makings of "good servants" and put them to work mining gold — and facing amputation or death if they came up short. (Columbus was personally entitled to 10 percent of the booty; the rest went to Spain.) Later, he would ship thousands of Taino back to Spain to be sold into slavery, while the diseases the explorers brought decimated the tribe.

Even by the norms of the day, Columbus was excessive. As governor of the West Indies, he imposed such brutal punishments on anyone who got in his way — including the Spanish colonists who tried to defy or belittle him — he was sacked by his royal backers and returned to Spain.

Clinging to the need to honor Columbus goes beyond venerating one person. It also means keeping faith with a Eurocentric view of the world that exalts white male explorers who "discovered" continents that were inhabited by "uncivilized" barbarians.

Indeed, extolling Columbus…
Celia Viggo Wexler
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