I grew up on Morris Avenue and 151st Street in the South Bronx neighborhood of Melrose when it still had a decent sized Italian population in the early 80s, mostly from the island of Ponza off the coast of Italy between Rome and Naples.
On Sundays, Our Lady of Pity Church had three masses, Italian, Spanish, and English serving the then mostly Puerto Rican and Black community along with the Ponzese community who founded the church in the early part of the 20th century.
And on every June 20th, the Ponzese community from near and far would gather at the church and lead a procession down Morris Avenue and across 149th Street in honor of their patron saint, Santo Silverio.
Despite the chaos of those decades in the South Bronx, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a diverse neighborhood.
It’s also where my passion began for all things Italian including the language which 30 years later I am fully fluent in after learning it with my childhood friends as well as studying it for three years at Cardinal Spellman High School and two years at Iona College.
Lo parlo abbastanza bene come un italiano lo parla.
The Italian community has always been an integral part of my life growing up and into today because they are my family figuratively and quite literally.
A few years ago, a DNA test via 24andMe revealed I had almost 9% Italian DNA mostly from Lazio, coincidently the province where not only Rome is located but also Ponza. DNA from Abruzzo and Calabria was also strongly present in my report.
None of this is too surprising given I’m Puerto Rican and many Italians settled in Puerto Rico in the 19th century.
I say all of this to say to my Italian friends and family that it is time to let go of Christopher Columbus.
It is incomprehensible to me why there is such an attachment to a figure that caused so much pain, harm, and genocide to the indigenous peoples of the Americas simply to celebrate your heritage.
Italy has one of the richest histories in Western civilization and was the birthplace of the Renaissance which gave us countless great thinkers, artists, scientists and the likes to choose from that didn’t cause the strife and crimes against humanity that Columbus is guilty of.
This isn’t about rewriting history, this is simply about righting a wrong.
And no, this is not an attack on Italians or their culture, this is a shift on celebrating actual heroes.
No one wants to ban celebrating Italian history and culture, we’re simply asking you to shift your focus away from that man and focus on the rich, beautiful history of Italy and the great many contributions of Italian Americans have made in our country.
Why do you want to celebrate the man that ushered the Transatlantic Slave Trade?
Why not celebrate Dante Alighieri, Giovanni Boccaccio, Michelangelo, Galileo, or Mother Cabrini? Celebrate the Piccirilli Brothers, the Italian immigrants who lived in the South Bronx and carved some of the nation’s most iconic monuments including the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.
And the list doesn’t end there as there are a plethora of names to celebrate under the banner of Italian history.
Rethink Columbus Day and celebrate your rich history and culture not the man who ushered in the slaughter, rape, and genocide of hundreds of millions of indigenous people along with the brutal Transatlantic Slave Trade.