New York has faced its own reckoning as confederate monuments around the country are debated. Not only did New York have to remove the busts of Confederate generals from the CUNY Hall of Great Americans in the Bronx, but certain street names in Brooklyn may be changed. On top of that, the discussion around memorializing racist figures has sparked a debate around the monument to Columbus in the aptly named "Columbus Circle" at 59th street. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito argued that the statue should consider the statue of Christopher Columbus when it reviews "symbols of hate" on city property.
It comes as no surprise that the mere suggestion of removing Columbus has the Italian-American community all riled up. Many Italian-American elected officials rallied to condemn Speaker Mark-Viverito for her comments and support the statue of Christopher Columbus. To look at the crowd, you would think that Columbus is the most important symbol of Italian-American heritage, and all Italian-Americans supported keeping the statue, including fellow Italian-American, Mayor Bill de Blasio. The Mayor mentioned that there were "some troubling things" about Columbus but didn't explicitly support the statue being removed.
So let me now be a strong Italian-American voice against the statue.
Christopher Columbus never discovered America. The word "discovery" implies that no one else knew the continent was here, which is not only refuted by the numerous explorers who arrived on the continent prior to Columbus, but the presence of Acoma Pueblo, which has been on the same mesa since 1150 A.D. (342 years before Columbus ever sailed the ocean blue).
Even if Columbus had been the first to discover America, his depraved violence against the Native Americans already on the continent should be enough to convince any Italian-American that he's not a figure worth memorializing. Do we really want a statue to help us remember a man who cut off the noses and ears of corn thieves?
"But Bella," you may wonder. "You can't possibly understand the power of an Italian symbol. You're not really an Italian-American, you're really only half Italian." True, but I am named Isabella Mancini Pori. That name is so Italian, it's already cooked you a lasagna and is worried that you don't go to church any more.
And even if I was fully Italian, I think I would see the harm in building a statue to a man who facilitated the slaughter of over 100,000 Native Americans. After all, I'm against statues of Don Juan de Oñate, who is known for cutting off the right foot of all able-bodied Pueblo men. Why wouldn't I be against a statue of a man who paraded the dismembered bodies of Native Americans through the streets to discourage further rebellion?
"But Isabella," you say. "City Councilman Joe Borelli was wearing his grandfather's Italian-American Civil Rights League pin! Surely we should trust the Councilman, who has a long familial history of fighting for Italian-American rights, over you!"
My friends, my grandfather was also a member of the Italian-American Civil Rights League, previously known as the Italian-American Anti-Defamation League. My grandfather refused to watch the Sopranos, because it perpetuated the idea that all Italians were in the mafia. My grandfather regularly told my mother about the largest mass lynching in American history, where 11 Italians were killed. I have my bona fides.
My grandfather was a hard-working, intelligent, and incredibly kind man. If he knew that Christopher Columbus had pressed girls as young as 9 into sexual slavery, I think he would have been against a statue of Columbus too.
"But Isabella Mancini Pori," you ask, deploying my full name as no one has ever done in my life. "What about the years of discrimination suffered by Italian-Americans? Don't they deserve to have a monument they are proud of?"
Glad you asked. No, they don't. Not if that monument continues the hundreds of years of discrimination faced by Native Americans. Italian-Americans should have a monument they can be proud of. Maybe one of Galileo, or Enea Bossi who designed the first steel aircraft, or Frank Sinatra, or even Al Smith. There are so many amazing Italian-American figures that we can memorialize, and use to remember this history and experience of Italian-American immigrants. We don't have to continue to memorialize a man who committed some of the most heinous atrocities in history.
We Italian-Americans have made incredibly strides since 1492. We hold seats on the Supreme Court, leadership positions in Congress, we've been influential CEOs and inventors of a long list of amazing products (like the Jacuzzi). We don't need to rely on a mediocre explorer and talented murder to build up our self-worth anymore. Our grandparents and great-grandparents crossed oceans and fought discrimination to build a better life for us. And we have to continue their legacy, and help others build a better life, in a world where no one is discriminated against. And if that means replacing on Italian for another, I do not see why any self-respecting Italian-American would be against it.