Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 16, 2013

House of Burgess: Sailing right past Columbus Day

The federal holiday an outmoded relic.

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— Columbus Day was Monday. Did you celebrate? I sure didn’t. You can’t believe how much I didn’t celebrate the life and work of one Cristoforo Colombo.

See, I generally try to make a point not to give respect to the memory of greedy, lying, thieving, genocidal murderers; but, then, that’s just me. I’m weird like that.

“They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance,” wrote Columbus in his logbook, about the indigenous peoples he met. “They would make fine servants. ... With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

Columbus systematically destroyed scores of these natives through disease, torture, rape, theft, slavery, mutilation and slaughter. In response to these facts, some far-flung locales have gone so far as to eschew the federally recognized Columbus Day in exchange for: Discoverer’s Day (Hawaii), Puerto Rico Friendship Day (U.S. Virgin Islands), Native American Day (South Dakota), Indigenous People’s Day (Berkeley, Calif.) and Alaska celebrated something called Monday because it doesn’t recognize the holiday at all.

Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal, wrote a wonderful comic entitled “Christopher Columbus was awful (but this other guy was not.)” In it, he effectively broke down the case against Columbus. He also proposed an alternate holiday instead celebrating Friar Bartolomé de las Casas, the Spanish historian and appointed “Protector of the Indians.”

Now, I understand every side wants its own holiday. I would love to have a day to celebrate the indigenous people of this land. (Schedule it for the opposite side of the calendar, perhaps?) And I agree with Casas’ merits for celebration. He certainly had his faults, too, like bringing the African slave trade to this continent. (He later repented, but that’s another story.) However, I think something else must be considered — and it has to do with another battered American demographic: Italian-Americans.

For decades before it was signed into law, many Italian-Americans had celebrated Columbus on their own.

Americans in general loved the Columbus story. Subsequently, Italian-Americans had every reason to seek this red, white and blue myth as shelter from the constant persecution for their own class, skin color and church. Who could blame them? Today it just makes me sad to have the image of Columbus as brave explorer still represent millions of Italian-Americans.

There is no shortage of reason for Italian pride sans Columbus. My favorite food is pizza. They have the best art. Their history is astounding. Furthermore, Italians themselves have a habit of being attractive. (Full disclosure: My wife is, among other things, of both Native- and Italian-American heritage.)

Knowing what we now know about Columbus, it seems an insult to continue to lionize him in this way. Also, did you know October is National Italian Heritage Month? I didn’t.

I could get behind that kind of celebration. There are so many Italian-Americans we could commemorate instead, like: Robert de Niro, Antonio Meucci (the real inventor of the telephone), Joe Pesci, Yogi Berra, Martin Scorsese, Joe DiMaggio. The list goes on and on. Heck, even the Jacuzzi family invented those hot tubs, and I happen to think that alone is better than Columbus.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.