Christopher Columbus Discovered America Whether You Like It Or Not.


Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), detail from Allegory on Charles V of Habsburg (1500-1558): The Geonese explorer, denounced at the Seattle City Council, has found defenders and advocates in the city’s Italian American community. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Italian-Americans plan ‘push back’ on dumping of Columbus Day

By Joel Connelly on October 8, 2014 at 2:44 PM

A bevy of Italian American groups, voicing their “deep frustration,” will unveil on Thursday morning a “comprehensive push back program” against the Seattle City Council decision to dump Columbus Day in favor of a new Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday of October.

Italy’s ambassador to the United States, Claudio Bisognierto, has added his voice in a diplomatic but pointed letter to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. He wrote:

“The critical issue at stake is that, while trying to valorize — and rightly so — the dignity of indigenous peoples, the city is poised to strip the Italian community of a celebration that has become, over time, a heartfelt expression of its identity and pride.”

The local Italian-American community has reacted in particular to remarks Monday at City Hall by socialist Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant. Sawant trashed Christopher Columbus, the Genoese explorer who sailed the ocean blue in 1492.

Columbus “played a pivotal role in the worst genocide humankind has ever known,” Sawant said. “This is about taking a stand against racism and discrimination.”

Ralph Fascitelli, best known as a prominent spokesman against gun violence, decried what he called “the insensitivity” of Sawant’s remarks.

“She really lit a match,” he said. “She, as an immigrant, should have an appreciation of the pride and sense of history that other immigrant groups feel in their heritage and role in the life of the nation.”

The city is set to unveil and celebrate Indigenous People’s Day at a City Hall celebration on Monday afternoon. Mayor Murray will walk a tightrope on how to honor one group of Americans without appearing to dishonor and snub another.

“We’ll be revealing a comprehensive push-back program on behalf of 25,000 Italian-American citizens in Seattle,” said Fascitelli.

He added that Italian-American groups offered compromises, such as a renaming to Italian-Heritage Day, or separate dates honoring Columbus and the country’s indigenous peoples.

In a statement, National Italian- American Foundation President John Viola said: “The increasingly frequent efforts to defame Christopher Columbus are no less than an abandonment of our core American values which hold risk and courage as the foundations of success.”

Seattle is not alone in its action. It was preceded by Berkeley, Calif., and recently by Minneapolis. South Dakota has changed the second Monday of October to Native-American Day. Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii do not observe Columbus Day.

But the Seattle action has clearly struck a nerve with Italian-American groups. In a statement preceding Thursday’s announcement, they said:

“Just as St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of all things Irish, Columbus Day is at its core about celebrating Italian heritage, and the some 200,000 Italian Americans in Washington State have a long proud history.

“In 1956, the state and city voted in Albert Rosellini, the fist Italian-American governor west of the Mississippi River. Seattle also has a large number of successful Italian-American leaders in law, business, advertising, government, athletics, finance, medicine, entertainment, nonprofits and the film industry.”

The release also noted a racial slogan used against Rosellini when he ran for governor: “We don’t need a Godfather in the State House.”

And, drawing a contrast with the Marxist jargon of Kshama Sawant, Randy Aliment, president of the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce for the Northwest, stated:

“Christopher Columbus was this country’s first and bravest entrepreneur. He had a noble vision, gathered a team, and had the initiative to solicit funds for his high risk startup from the king and queen of Spain.”

The Seattle City Council has a modern tradition of sending activists away happy with largely symbolic resolutions. It has embraced Occupy Wall Street, and endorsed amending the U.S. Constitution to overturn the 2010 Citizens United ruling in which the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to campaign spending.

The “push back program” will mark the first time that a group with heft in the city has pushed back and put the label of “insensitivity” on those used to applying it.

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