So today is Columbus Day, a.k.a. Columbus Cold Murdered All the Indigenous Peoples Day. The Ithaca paper had a front-page story about how schools are shockingly teaching all about the Dark Side of Columbus, which is not so shocking to me since my progressive schools were teaching me all about the Dark Side of Columbus and Other Europeans 25 years ago.
What did shock me was when I moved to Wooster Square and found out there were still people who considered Columbus Day a holiday, not just a day off but a festive holiday i.e. Italians, i.e. my people, or a quarter of my people. In 1892, before Columbus became un-PC, the Italian immigrants of New Haven erected a statue of Columbus in Wooster Square which stands to this day, and on this very day I can tell you (though I am not there) that it is festooned with all sorts of flowers and banners donated by the continually present Italian community of New Haven. Also the Knights of Columbus is headquartered in New Haven. So Columbus is kind of a big deelio.
Why? Well, because Columbus was, very broadly speaking, the first Italian-American, and while it might be more appropriate for our people to celebrate Mother Cabrini, this was before her canonization or even her death, so...there you go. And there is something to celebrate, after all, about being Italian in America, which is pretty cool, especially for southern Italians (such as my great-grandparents) who, like many immigrants, came here to escape poverty and provide their descendants with opportunities they didn't have in their native land. Italians are one of the American success stories, maintaining their identity, their traditions, and sometimes (to my surprise as I wander around Wooster) their language, while becoming at the same time fully acculturated Americans. Columbus Day is the day when Italian-Americans celebrate being Italian and American--which, not having grown up in a place with a critical mass of Italians, I never realized they had a day for until I moved to Wooster Square.
Which is not to negate the very real historical consequences of Columbus, the murder and often annihilation of entire native cultures by war, massacre, smallpox, and the like, and the herding of remaining peoples onto tiny reservations on land nobody else wanted. Italians have had it pretty good; we don't really need a holiday. But I wonder if this is a zero-sum game, if on this day our collective conscience must so outweigh any other consideration that there is not a sliver of space for us to celebrate what was good in what came after, which considering how good pizza is, you'd think maybe there would be, just a little. So I can pass on to my one-eighth Italian daughter with the Italian surname for a first name and the birthday that will often fall on Columbus Day weekend, or what is left of it after all the significance has been wrung out of it and we're left with guilt and no mail--sorry, that was a long sentence, but so I can pass on to her a little tiny bit of pride in being Italian-American, which whatever our ancestral sins is still a neat thing to be.