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Columbus Is Not My Homeboy
Editor's Note: Now that we're back from a three-day weekend, it's safe to complain about Columbus Day. After all, while we don't like the idea of Columbus Day, we do like the idea of having a day off. But maybe like Seattle, we should use the day to honor someone or something else.
If there’s one thing that I can’t stand, it’s when I discover that a beloved holiday has sinister roots. As a Pagan, I know very well that many Christian holidays, including Christmas and Easter, appropriate pagan customs. A lot of non-Pagans know this, too. However, a lot of people still don’t know that St. Patrick “chasing the snakes out of Ireland” is a metaphor for St. Patrick committing genocide upon Celtic Pagans. While I might indulge in the dyed food and beer on that day, I can never shake the feeling of discomfort that comes from knowing that this particular holiday celebrates death. I understand that this holiday has morphed into a day that celebrates Irish culture, but the prevalence of the snake-chasing mythos still makes me uncomfortable. The fact I still indulge in St. Patrick's Day is a guilty pleasure, with a huge emphasis on the “guilt” part.
Thus, in order to stand up for Pagans, I do try to explain the roots of St. Patrick’s Day to others in order to promote awareness. Yes, I can thank St. Patrick’s Day for giving me a reason to celebrate my Irish heritage, but the fact that the day once celebrated the banishment of Pagan culture, religion, and lives remains. Others might accuse me of being “fluffy” or petty, but the point is that people and customs were killed specifically because they were Pagan. That’s not cool.
I feel the same way about Columbus Day. All I really have to thank Columbus for is all of the days off that I’ve received in his honor. But honestly, I would rather not devote any time or attention to him at all. I hear some Italian-Americans say that Columbus Day is a day to celebrate Italian-American culture. Christopher Columbus does not glorify Italian culture in any way. If anything, he makes us look terrible and if we’re to continue observing this holiday in good faith, we need to stop calling it Columbus Day.
Columbus came to my native country before I did. Then he abused the people who “discovered” the land before him. He was a terrible guest. Native nations sometimes committed mass-suicide to avoid contact with Columbus and his fleet. Imagine how scary it must be to hear that a dangerous person is approaching your community, a person so terrible that you would rather kill yourself than die how they wanted you to die. Christopher Columbus never even set foot in North America, so why are we sitting here and allowing him to take credit for the discovery of our country?
I am Sicilian-American. Prior to World War II, Sicilian Americans didn’t have “financial security and social acceptance.” Though Sicily isn’t technically part of Italy, many Sicilian people in America identify as Italian. Italian immigrants weren’t considered “white” back then and were treated like crap because of it. Many Italian immigrants was olive-complected, especially those who were from Southern Italy, but definitely not all of them. But as demonstrated by anti-Semitism, even having white skin doesn’t make you "white." Whiteness is actually rather flimsy as a social construct; it’s not just an adjective for the color of your skin.
Upon their arrival in the United States, Italian-Americans were the victims of racism. My ancestors were regarded as second-class at best. And my ancestors weren't poor. Luigi Pirandello, the Nobel Prize-winning playwright from Sicily, is just one example of the accomplished individuals in my Sicilian bloodline. Yet even that kind of prestige couldn’t exempt us from our lack of perceived whiteness.
I live on Long Island, a place with a huge Italian population. They forget that there are still people in America who describe Italians as “ethnic” with a hint of disgust and call us “eye-talians.” They forget that we’re not necessarily considered white by everyone and seem to overcompensate for their own securities by putting down other minorities. On a purely selfish level, it makes zero sense for us to celebrate Columbus's killing spree. White or not white, it doesn't matter. There’s an astronomical difference between being proud of your ethnicity and thinking of others as lesser for not sharing your ethnicity.
Here’s a good example of some racism that Italians still face: the Mafia stereotype. Within the Italian-American community, it's generally considered very shameful to associate with the Mafia. Those who are affiliated with the Mafia never go around bragging about it, especially around other Italian people. Ask if someone has relatives in the Mafia and you'll be met with an icy stare of disapproval. It may be hard to understand if you aren’t Italian, but not only is it a rude thing to ask, it’s also extremely offensive. To see the Mafia glorified by (non-Italian) people and the media feels terrible.
I’m already bracing myself for how many people are going to be angry with my next statement, but I can’t hold it in any longer: I am so sick of seeing how many Italian-Americans perpetuate racism. To make matters worse, it’s hypocritical. I’ve heard so much racist nonsense spewed by older Italian/Sicilian-Americans. It doesn’t help that Italian-American culture emphasizes respect for one’s elders, so if you speak out against any racist remarks that they make or remind them of our "non-white" history, they get angry and sometimes go as far as to call you intolerant for not tolerating their intolerance. What a concept.
As an ethnic group that has suffered from racism in the place where we sought refuge, we should be one of the last people to endorse racism and genocide. Why are we championing Columbus as a sign of Italian achievement?
I think that, at best, this “holiday” is antiquated and in desperate need of an extreme makeover. That’s why it makes me so glad to hear about things like Indigenous Peoples Day to reclaim and redefine it. Italian-American culture needs a new face. As people with such a rich culture and a legacy of brilliance, we have plenty of other worthy individuals to celebrate. But please, not Columbus. America fetishizes success, but we need to stop fetishizing success at the expense of others. We need to care about how many throats someone slashed en route to "success."
#ChristopherColumbus #Italian #Sicilian #Racism #Discrimination #AntiItalianism #Stereotypes #Genocide
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