I am not one who applauds the recent decision by the New York City Mayor’s Commission to allow the statue of Christopher Columbus to remain at Columbus Circle because the approval was done with the intention of the City placing additional informational “markers” in and around Columbus Circle that depict the Great Navigator in an offensive and critical portrayal. In my opinion, to show gratitude shows weakness and recognizes that this group of Mayoral appointees actually had the authority and power to remove the Columbus monument. They did not and any attempt to do so would have invited a torrent of legal actions and protests from the Tri-State Italian American community the City’s Mayor did not want to endure. That was the purpose of this appointed group…to shift the responsibility and potential blame.
I, too, take great exception with the comments of the president of an Italian organization who declared, “I do not care about markers.” Well, you should, my ignorant friend, for you are condoning a group of “paper tigers” to rewrite history and denigrate our heritage. To be able to logically and credibly discuss this issue, I strongly suggest to those activists or anti-Columbians to take the time to learn and read the opinions of the esteemed contemporary writers of this most interesting period in our world’s history. I am disappointed and critical of those of Puerto Rican and Dominican heritage in New York City who view Christopher Columbus as a symbol of genocide, slavery and corruption. The leading voice who chronicled the period’s events was a Dominican, Bartoleme de las Casas. As you can see, I am a believer of depending on those historical sources who were actually present during the making of history rather than the reliance of uninformed activists who wish to rewrite it with ignorance. It was de las Casas who led the criticism of those who enslaved and brutalized as they colonized the native people but it was also Bartoleme de las Casas who led the praise of Christopher Columbus, for it was the Great Navigator who truly carried the message of God and the Church, not one who was there to conquer. While Columbus was alive and after his death, de las Casas commended Christopher Columbus for his treatment of Native Americans and that he NEVER participated in the trading of slaves. The main concern of Columbus was to open a new trade route and perform missionary work while spreading his faith of Catholicism.
Columbus was an explorer; he was not a conqueror. He sailed under the Spanish flag and as a devout Catholic, believed in bringing the word of God to the “New World.” This is the same holy mission as the Jesuits, Dominicans and Franciscans who later followed into the land that would become known as the Americas. Because of the timeframe involved, many individuals do not make a distinction between the activities of Columbus and the men who followed in the years after the gateway to the New World was established.
When the conquistadors of Spain arrived on the shores of the Americas, it was a generation later; Cortez made his first voyage to the Americas 27 years after Columbus. Unlike the Great Navigator, the conquistadors were soldiers. Their explorations to the Americas, Africa and Asia led to the colonization of much of the world for Spain and Portugal. Yet it is Columbus who has been cast as the man who brought slavery to the “New World.”
So why is Columbus now being vilified more than 500 years after his death? He became a symbol of the European entry to the New World which in turn transfigured into Columbus as symbol of European aggression. The conquest in the Americas during the 15th to 19th centuries resulted in an economic dominance for the Spain and the decimation of Native American civilizations. In fact, it was the Spanish Crown, not Columbus that instituted the practice of slavery throughout South and Central America.
For the media in the 21st century, it is much easier to pick on one soul for vilification than to go into the complexities of the socio-economic environment of the period. If any group of Americans should be offended by the lack of empathy exhibited by the pandering media, it is Italian Americans. The people that were instrumental in the development of Western Civilization which gave us the Italian Renaissance, were treated as sub-humans when they arrived on the shores of America during the mass immigration of the 19th and 20th centuries. Our forefathers and families took it in stride and rose above the prejudices. Which leads me to my final point – some may view it as an opinion, but those reading this newspaper will know it to be a fact – the nobility and contributions of the Italian “CULTURE CAN NEVER BE CRUSHED.”
I call upon all Italian American organizations to unite to defeat the placement of the offensive markers written by those who have no knowledge of history.