Friday, September 30, 2016

The courage, perseverance and spiritual fervor of Christopher Columbus

POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
The courage, perseverance and spiritual fervor of Christopher Columbus
by David Trumbull - September 30, 2016

"The governor shall annually issue a proclamation setting apart the month of October as Italian-American Heritage Month, in recognition of the significant contributions Italian-Americans have made to the commonwealth and to the United States and recommending that said month be observed in an appropriate manner by the people. After consultation with Italian-American groups, the governor may include in the proclamation such contributions as he shall see fit." --Mass. Gen. Laws, Chapter 6, Section 15EEEE.

"The governor shall annually issue a proclamation setting apart the second Monday in October as Columbus Day and recommending that it be observed by the people, with appropriate exercises in the schools and otherwise, to the end that the memory of the courage, perseverance and spiritual fervor of Christopher Columbus, discoverer of America, may be perpetuated." --Mass. Gen. Laws, Chapter 6, Section 12V. (Emphasis added.)

It is fitting that we celebrate Italian heritage during the month in which we commemorate Columbus. Columbus sailed under the Spanish flag, but he was a native of, and learned his craft in, the Italian peninsula. His historic voyages opened communication, commerce, and migration between the Old World of Europe and the New World of the Americas. Columbus' voyages of discovery led directly to Spanish settlements. The New World that became, with time, the many nations of South, Central and North America and the islands of the Caribbean began with Columbus. The United States, today a sea-to-sea continental nation with citizens and residents whose ancestors lived in every corner of the globe, likewise traces her beginnings to Columbus, a man of Italian birth and heritage.

That America owes her very existence to Columbus was recognized early in the history of our republic. As early as 1738 "Columbia" had entered the English tongue as a name for the 13 British colonies in North America that became our original 13 States. When our Constitution went into effect in 1789 it provided that the seat of the federal government would be a "district" apart from any individual state or states. That district was named, appropriately, the District of Columbia and our national capitol remains Washington, D.C. However, over time, attitudes changed.

By the 1820s, with the rise of immigration, especially German and Irish Catholics, native-born Americans --Protestant English, Scots and Ulstermen -- found Columbus an increasingly embarrassing hero. He was an Italian employed by the Spanish -- Southern Europeans considered "dirty" and "stupid" races in the thrall of a superstitious church. The drive to recognize Columbus with a national holiday was largely the effort of a Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus. The most organized and vocal opponent of the K of C was the Ku Klux Klan. The arguments around the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery -- that he enslaved and killed indigenous Americans when he wasn't busy forcing them to convert to the Catholic Church -- were the same charges we heard at the 500th anniversary in 1992 and continue to hear. When you hear them, consider the original source.