by Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage
Italians have a colorful place in the history of Utica and the United States as a whole. I know. I am one. Whites in the US have long gushed over model minorities from Asia, but only one minority was ever extended the privilege of becoming white: Italians. By robbing Italians of their mystery and olive-toned sorcery, whites in the US were able to colonize the Italian. To civilize him. Make him safe.
It’s all bullshit. It’s all bullshit and it’s bad for you. It also imbues the Columbus Day celebrations in Italian-American communities with deep irony. Columbus opened the “New World” (already discovered several times) for Europe’s favorite business pastimes: Colonization, genocide and slavery.
Interesting then that an immigrant population once violently persecuted, lynched, feared as an other, viewed as “the descendents of theives and assassins” and “worse than the negro” could come to accept a holiday of one of Europe’s biggest forebears of racism as their own special day. A holiday commemorating a man whose efforts would transform entire continents into little more than exploitable sources for raw materials to be dominated, subjugated and sold.
Columbus Day is the perfect whitewashed end to state-sanctioned maltreatment of Italian immigrants. Sold as a brave explorer looking to prove the world was round, Columbus did little more than sew the destruction of countless indigenous cultures in the Americas by bringing the worst aspects of the Age of Discovery to the inhabitants there: Slavery, forced conversion to Christianity and disease. The combination of these, and the violent methods to induce them, would claim the lives of millions over a period of centuries.
While the Chinese, Vikings, millions of indigenous peoples and even other Italians discovered the “New World” before Columbus, he was the first to instigate the slave trade. And when disease and harsh treatment took their toll on the native slaves, he began to import Africans. Hell, on the first day that he landed in 1492, he ordered his men to seize six natives so that they may be forced into servitude. His cruelty also extended to his own people as he was well-known for, and eventually disposed due to, torture and unusual punishments against people who broke his decrees as governor and viceroy of the West Indies.
With history being more accessible than ever, how has the local media covered the rapidly declining relevance of Columbus Day over the years? By completely ignoring the terror that Christopher Columbus actually was and posting feel-good stories of misguided fraternal orders and ties to the Italian community. We even have an elementary school named after this guy.
A Lite 98.7 article notes that Columbus is the “perfect choice” for a statue to adorn Utica’s Memorial Parkway, given the area’s Italian population.
A similar piece on statues along the Memorial Parkway, by the Observer-Dispatch, places the Columbus statue among many others deemed “immortalized patriots”. While it may be obvious that Christopher Columbus wasn’t an American patriot, it is fitting that he stands among Revolutionary War veterans whose actions also would sew disaster for indigenous people of the Mohawk Valley, the rest of the United States and beyond.
Another O-D article drives home the misguided sentiments like no other. A real coup de grace of almost adorable ignorance. Covering a 2009 wreath-laying ceremony, attendees were quoted as saying, “Columbus is our symbol,” representing three important aspects of Italian-American culture: Love, respect and ambition.
Oneida County Legislator Anthony Picente, whose comment would betray little historical awareness, stated that, “As an Italian-American, it’s a special day.”
In ways, the wreath-layer was correct. Columbus loved power, respected the generosity of the natives he would subjugate as the trait was seen to make them great servants and showed great ambition by spearheading a centuries long and lucrative slave trade which spanned entire oceans. Did this man’s “research” into Columbus ever lead him in that direction in his effort to portray accomplishments over atrocities?
One must give credit to WUTR’s CNY Homepage, at least they tried to reflect both the truth and the times by lazily posting an article from CNN about Indigenous People’s Day. Because, you know, there’s nobody else who can elaborate on the subject of how ridiculous celebrating Columbus Day is.
Still, that idea about Indigenous People’s Day is curious. Why not keep our day off and instead replace an architect of genocide with a day of respect for the populations he helped slaughter? Other cities around the country are already doing so, from Seattle to Albequerque to Minneapolis and places in between, the push to abolish Columbus Day is catching on.
Perhaps it’s time for Utica to catch on as well. Enough with Columbus Day. It’s an irrelevant celebration of a monster.