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In Defense of Columbus: A Call for Unity

I feel it is not the right time to speak about being Italian American when there are bigger and more important issues the government is working on, though Italian American heritage is very important to me. However with the removal of Christopher Columbus statues across America, I am compelled to write about the topic. I write these words with my utmost respect and humility.

Let’s end the practice of cultural supremacy against Italian American heritage. Let’s stand for unity, not divisiveness, together as Americans.”

Let me start by saying that I believe it could be unifying and positive for Native Americans and African Americans to support Italian Americans in public or in a public statement. My hope is that Native Americans and African Americans can support Christopher Columbus's legacy and symbolism in the Italian American community, but of course, we do not honor but condemn the atrocities that were committed afterward or while Columbus was sailing in search of the Grand Khan of Asia. At the Sunday Mass, July 5, 2020, at University of Notre Dame, Father Joseph said that when people draw a line to defend, "Remember that God is on both sides of the line." I am no expert in Native American spirituality, but I could imagine that the same is true. I believe an artificial line has been drawn in the sand which is detrimental to understanding the true history of the person, Christopher Columbus, not only the symbol or icon.

My goal after much and continued research is to defend Italian Americans and Christopher Columbus, but not at the expense of Native and African Americans. Support Columbus Day, Columbus Statues in Public Space, and Italian American culture. Columbus legitimized Italian Americans as Americans during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including not being considered enemy aliens after World War II. The KKK hated Italians for their dark skin and Catholicism, as a result many Columbus statues were erected across the country in response to bigotry as a symbol of inclusion for all immigrants. Eleven Italians were lynched in New Orleans on March 14,1891, the worst lynching in American history. Like Sacco and Vanzetti in 1921, Columbus is being convicted of crimes he didn’t commit. As recently as 1992, Governor Mario Cuomo did not run for the presidency because the United States was not ready to elect an Italian American. The history of discrimination against Italian immigrants is real. Still, we are trying to overcome negative stereotypes today.

Firstly, I recommend two books in defense of Columbus: Mary Graber's Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing Fake History That Turned a Generation against America and Carol Delaney's Columbus and The Quest for Jerusalem. The talking points communicated in today's media, online petitions, and town meetings are superficial at best and biased. Here are 5 proven facts, though there are many more I can share: 1. Columbus never owned any slaves or brought any to the Western Hemisphere from Africa. He did send 500 Native Americans to the queen as prisoners of war, which was an accepted practice at the time. 2. Taino Chief Guacanagari helped Columbus and stayed allies with him. 3. Brutality and genocide occurred in America not under Columbus’s watch with the reality that at that moment in history all of what Columbus is accused of was practiced by peoples throughout the world including many Native Americans and Africans. Additionally, Columbus was sent back to Spain by his political adversaries for defending Native Americans. 4. Columbus viewed Taino people as equals, evidenced by his desire to convert them to Christianity. 5. Columbus's goals were not to conquer, but to convert Eastern people to Christianity, find the Grand Khan of Asia to develop trade routes, and to find gold to make the voyages profitable to finance and form a new alliance with the East to retake Jerusalem. It was a business and religious venture.

Secondly, Columbus came from a humble upbringing as the son of a weaver with no privilege. He had a vision of sailing West from the time he was a boy. Columbus was a man of God to be honored. Although Columbus's vision, persistence, and navigational skills were second to none, events didn't unfold the way Columbus would have wanted. Not only should his accomplishment of opening up Western Civilization to the rest of the world be honored, but maybe his human flaws are what we can connect to at a personal level. A person of a modest upbringing changing the world captures the American Spirit.

Thirdly, Columbus is being accused of crimes he did not commit in politically motivated attacks of our present time. Historically, Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Italian Americans, and all Americans understood facts about Columbus, not fiction, holding the Admiral of the Ocean Sea in the highest esteem. Similarly during the past months, false narratives are being spread against Brigham Young, Gandhi, and Catholic Saints. These acts are divisive; let’s move forward in unity. Today, more than 3 percent of Native Americans practice Christianity, standing in solidarity with their Christian brothers and sisters. During the 1950’s and 60’s, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. worked together to desegregate Las Vegas casinos. People across America felt shockwaves in 1960, when John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States, as the first non White Angelo Saxon Protestant president. Not only Irish Americans, but African and Italian Americans stood together, proudly. This history of cooperation among ethnic and racial groups including the formation of the NAACP is in stark contrast with the unfounded accusations against Columbus and the Italian American community today, which are more and more anti Catholic and Western Civilization.

Finally, researchers that know Columbus best stand with Truth, not politics and indoctrination. Samuel Eliot Morison in Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus concludes, “The whole history of the Americas stems from the Four Voyages of Columbus... so today a score of independent nations and dominions unite in homage to Christopher the stout-hearted son of Genoa, who carried Christian civilization across the Ocean Sea.” American Anthropologist, Carol Delanay Ph.D., Harvard Divinity School, the University of Chicago, and Boston University, wrote in the Providence Journal on October 21, 2017: “Columbus never killed any natives and continually admonished his men not to maraud, rape or plunder.” Knowing the facts and not having a political agenda, it is illogical to convict Columbus of atrocities that occurred after his voyages or by his political adversaries. Through my research, I find there is no evidence proving Columbus is guilty of genocide, racism, and rape.

The acceptance of Columbus statues in public space represents the acceptance of Italian Americans by the government. Maintain Columbus Day as a national holiday and re-dedicate all Columbus statues that have been destroyed or removed. Let’s end the practice of cultural supremacy against Italian American heritage. Let’s stand for unity, not divisiveness, together as Americans.


Matthew Guarnieri is a second generation Italian American and public school educator of 17 years. He completed his undergraduate studies at Boston College, a M.S. Ed in Elementary Education, and a Sixth Year Diploma in Intermediate Administration at UCONN.Create a blog post subtitle that summarizes your post in a few short, punchy sentences and entices your audience to continue reading. You’ll be posting loads of engaging content, so be sure to keep your blog organized with Categories that also allow visitors to explore more of what interests them.

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