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Columbus and the Legacy of Italian Americans



Columbus and the Legacy of Italian Americans

In recent years Christopher Columbus has become something of a controversial figure. Here in the United States there has been talk of renaming or removing Columbus Day, and tearing down any and all statues or mentions of Columbus. This should not be allowed under any circumstances. While it is true that Christopher Columbus did some questionable things, the importance of his discovery and actions can not be overstated. Columbus acted as something like a bridge between the Old World and the New World by opening up a more permanent interaction between the two. Columbus ushered in the era of globalization, and represented a major shift for the global community.

With the wave of anti-Columbus support growing louder, it is important to remember the impact of the man, and to preserve his legacy. Italian Americans know that as well as anyone. By removing any mention of Columbus from the world, you are effectively removing Columbus from history. This absolutely can not be allowed to happen. The legacy of Columbus is too important to brush under the rug, and this aggression towards Columbus is misdirected. and misguided. While it is important to note his shortcomings and the negative effects of his actions, it is also important to understand his historical significance.

Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy in the year 1451. He would eventually make the voyage over to the New World four different times, bringing back new curiosities and never before seen artifacts. This created a huge wave of increased interest in the New World, and directly led to the colonization of what would eventually become the United States. While some in Europe were aware of the New World, this time things were different. Europe became immensely fascinated with the New World, and began sending expeditions to discover what else was out there. So while Columbus was not the first European to discover the New World, he was massively important for increasing the European interest in the New World, and setting off the chain of events that led us to where we are today. Without Columbus, the United States may not have existed at all, at least not in its current form.

So with this in mind, Italy has been a major part of American history from the very beginning. Despite this, many Italian immigrants were not welcomed here with open arms. The United States has had a long and complicated relationship with immigrants, despite the fact that the country was founded on the very foundation of welcoming everyone who wished to come. The Italian immigrants were no exception to this rule, and many faced extreme amounts of prejudice and discrimination as soon as they entered the United States.

While Italians have been immigrating to the United States since the very beginning, the largest wave came from the years 1880-1915. This era saw as many as 4 million Italians leave their homes to come to the United States. This is where the discrimination of Italian Americans became most apparent. The media began to perpetuate false Italian stereotypes, and soon enough things began to escalate. This made it more challenging for many Italian Americans to find work, and as time went on this led to despicable acts of violence against Italian Americans, particularly in the southern United States. Many Catholic churches were targeted and razed to the ground due to their affiliation with Italian Americans. Even worse, many Italian Americans were the targets of racially driven attacks and even lynchings. In fact, in the year 1891, one of the largest lynchings in United States history took place in New Orleans, where as many as 11 Italian Americans were lynched in response to a murder. They had been found innocent by a jury, but a mob broke out and murdered the immigrants. This grisly event is a somber reminder that Italian Americans have faced many hardships throughout history.

These acts were at least partially driven by the negative and false narratives assigned to Italian Americans by many of the major news sources of the day. Italian culture was portrayed as lesser by these publications, and even reported as being dangerous or criminal. While these were absolutely untrue and fabricated narratives, many in the United States believed them. This sort of misinformation contributed heavily to the discrimination faced everyday by Italian Americans, and in a sense has existed all the way into the modern era.

As time moved forward, these violent attacks did become less frequent, but discrimination and stereotyping did continue to exist. This could be seen most clearly by portrayal of Italian Americans in popular media. From gangster movies such as The Godfather or television shows like The Sopranos it became popular to paint Italian Americans in a negative, stereotypical, and offensive light. This struggle is still seen today, as many are fighting to remove the negative and untrue stereotypes surrounding Italian Americans.

With this in mind, it becomes much easier to understand why Italian Americans are forced to once again go on the defensive. The heritage of Italian Americans has been under attack for over 200 years in the United States, and this is just a continuation of what has come before. It has come in a variety of different channels, but the story is always the same. Italian Americans have not received the credit they deserve in making the United States what it is today. From the moment Columbus reported his findings up to today the Italian Americans have left a massive imprint on the United States, and played a large part in shaping it into what it has become today. The heritage of Italian Americans needs to be protected and preserved for the generations that follow. Statues of Columbus need to remain. Columbus day needs to remain. The legacy of Columbus is too important to disregard in its entirety. He needs to be remembered for who he was and what he did in its entirety. The good and the bad. It is not beneficial for anyone to just remove him altogether.

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