Several weeks ago, the youth of America, enraged by the police murder of George Floyd, burst into the streets to protest racism in all its forms. One of the targets has been statues of racists which disgrace our public spaces.
Today, we are in the middle of a counter attack. A big piece in the Herald, and hours of City Council time have been devoted to the historical role of Columbus. Many of them are complaining about revising history.
Columbus was once a hero to everybody, especially Italians.
Millions of Italian workers poured into the U.S. starting 140 years ago. They were the backbone of manufacturing and unionization all over the northeast. Their brains and muscles built America into a world power, and put the Hardware City on the map. Little Poland was once “Little Italy.”
They deserved recognition, and the image of the Discoverer of America was an obvious choice. The problem, of course, which only today is fully understood, is that this hemisphere was “discovered” more than 10,000 years ago by the ancestors of the First Nations, who are still among us, and who numbered in the tens of millions in 1492.
THE REAL COLUMBUS
Some of the defenders of the statue want to think Columbus was merely an adventurer, and did not participate in the genocide which came later. This is not true. Columbus treated the people he found with contempt, and, on his second voyage, kidnapped thousands of them and brought them back to Spain as slaves. Most of them died in the voyage.
The misguided objectors to the removal of the statue claim that if Columbus comes down, so must Washington and Jefferson, large slave-holders. Their role does need to be revised, but not deleted. Their leadership in overthrowing monarchy and establishing democracy was a gift to the world.
So how can we make sure that the removal of the Columbus statue is not interpreted as an insult to New Britain’s Italian community?
I suggest we put Columbus in a museum, and erect a new statue to the New Britain Italian factory workers, women and men, who, lunch box in hand, walked to work and built this proud city.