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Columbus Remains Controversial Figure

Columbus Day: a day for controversy or celebration? I answer that question here for me...what say you?

Christopher Columbus has become a controversial figure of late. When I was a kid, we sang about and celebrated his discovery of America. You remember:  "Columbus sailed the ocean blue, fourteen-hundred-ninety-two..."  Permemnently etched in my brain are teh names of his three ships -- the Nina, the Pinta and Santa Maria.  I was actually surprised to see that Melissa Gorga, of Real Housewives of New Jersey fame (the show is a huge guilty pleasure of mine), remembered the ships' names, too.  Columbus Day was a simple, innocent holiday back then.

Now there is a need to qualify Christopher Columbus's journey and discovery with his being a product of the times he lived in. Yes, he was motivated by money rather than simply the desire to discover.  No, he didn't ever make it to the United States mainland, just to Puerto Rico (a place I wouldn't mind landing -- talk about a happy accident!).  Yes, he was freaked out by the natives of the strange land he landed upon and acted according to the societal norms of the day.  It's probably not in the cards for me to leave the legacy Christopher Columbus did but we all leave our mark on the world.  I hope the things I said and did during my life are taken upon their own merits and not judged so harshly because of the age in which I live by my great-great-grandkids.

Regardless of anything else, I think that we can all agree -- old school and new school -- that although the mission Christopher Columbus embarked upon failed, he proved the world was round and vast...and forever changed it, making the mission ultimately a success.

The biggest personal impact I feel from Columbus is this: He said "I will" when everyone said "You can't" and then he did it anyway. Important lessons indeed and ones I draw upon daily.

Happy Columbus Day! If you are Italian-American, celebrate the pride of your culture and the bravery of one of your ancestors!  If you are simply American, celebrate the groundwork for the American Spirit!  If you are neither, enjoy the gorgeous day that nature gave Long Island today.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Tanii C. October 11, 2011 at 07:35 PM
I don't really think, raping, pillaging and genocide were the norms of the day. And if for some strange reason I am wrong and they were the norm it's still not something that should be celebrated. Pick a different Italian that made a great contribution to society to celebrate, not a murder.
Chris F October 12, 2011 at 02:39 AM
I don't even see why he is relevant. He discovered the Bahamas which in itself is also meaningless since it was the British and not the Italians or the Spanish who colonized both the Bahamas, and what would eventually become the United States (the Thirteen Colonies).
Irene October 13, 2011 at 02:44 PM
Ya know something Judy, what you wrote was very sincere and I applaud you for speaking up on behalf of the Italian Amerian heritage. Italians in America have so much to be proud of, and I for one embrace with all my heart there love of life and culture and patriotism! Whether it be art, food, achitecture, science, you name it, our society has benefited beyond words because of the contributions made by the Italian American heritage in this great nation! A TINY few can never change that fact!
Tanii C. October 13, 2011 at 02:50 PM
It's not a knock on Italians, it's a knock on a bad person.
Irene October 13, 2011 at 02:57 PM
This is the year 2011, and these days, Italians view Columbus day in the same way the Irish view St. Patricks day. The day is for celebrating Italians and being an Italian American period!
James M. October 14, 2011 at 10:11 PM
Yeah so. So you view it as an Italian American holiday? Why not call it Italiano Day? Columbus was an Italian working for the Spanish. Shouldn't Columbus Day be a Spanish holiday since they footed the bill. Why don't we have Ponce De Leon day? Why not Leonardo Di Vinci Day? How come the kids don't get a day off for Steuben Day or St. Patrick's Day (do kids still get off for Columbus day)? What about Cinco De Mayo, should the kids get a day off for Mexican liberation? How about we celebrate Ho Chi Minh Day? What about John Rolfe Day? Pocahantas Day? Cortez Day? How about Viking Day since they were the first Europeans that had settlements in North America 500 years before Columbus?
James M. October 14, 2011 at 10:12 PM
Oh by the way I know a lot of Italians Americans who don't have the same view on Columbus Day.
James M. October 14, 2011 at 10:15 PM
Did you hurt your arm patting yourself on the back for being born to a family in America that was once living in Italy?
Irene October 15, 2011 at 02:32 PM
Oh that's interesting because Americans have been officially celebrating Columbus day since Franklin Delano Roosevelt made it a federal holiday on October 12, 1934, but unofficially way before that in the18th century.
Judy Cangemi October 17, 2011 at 05:33 PM
@ J. Marshall: I believe your comment "did you hurt your arm patting yourself on the back being born to a family in America that was once living in Italy?" was directed at me. I am not of Italian descent. On my mother's side, one of my great-grandmothers came from Boukovina, which toggled between being in Russia or Romania (lots of border wars) and her husband was from Kiev in the Ukraine. Both were persecuted for being Jews in Europe (before the Rise of the Third Reich) and came here for a better life. My other maternal great-grandparents were from Venezuela, my great-grandfather being of native South American blood who sought a better life here in the USA. I didn't know my father's family at all but they were Polish and Irish. You likely thought I was Italian because of my surname. I took that name when I married my husband and I proudly incorporate his family's culture into my own "mixed bag." I hope that as I blog more, you get to know me better and aren't forced to make assumptions about my insides based on what you know of my outsides. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!
Judy Cangemi October 17, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Thank you, Irene. However our families made our way here, I am glad that we can celebrate our cultural origins together and incorporate them into American Culture. That is a wonderful gift. I think it is important for all of us to celebrate where we came from yesterday to help shape a better today and tomorrow. Ciao bella!
Judy Cangemi October 17, 2011 at 05:49 PM
You are correct, Chris. Christopher Columbus never made it to the mainland of what is now the United States. I do believe that he made it to Puerto Rico, which is a US territory, however, I know there is some debate about that as well. The thing you need to remember is that Columbus is credited with discovering "America," not the "United States of America." The Americas are comprised of North America, South America and Central America, of which the islands of the Bahamas and others in the Caribbean are part so technically Christopher Columbus did indeed discover "America." I believe the greatest significance in this is not neccessarily where he landed geographically but that he openned the door to other European explorers to this New World. In effect, the fact that we are able to discuss this online is due to Columbus thumbing his nose at conventional wisdom and embarking on his journey the wrong way on the flat earth; without that first step, everything that followed -- for better or for worse -- the world as we know it today would not be here.
Judy Cangemi October 17, 2011 at 05:58 PM
Unfortunately, in the human experience, raping, pillaging and genocide were more common place hundreds of years ago than 21st century folks like us realize. Heck, a great deal of my own family fell victim to genocide in Russia at the hands of the Cossacks decades before Hitler came to power and the Khmer Rouge killed more in Cambodia as I went to kindergarten in the 1970s. It still goes on today. Columbus Day is not a day when we celebrate raping, pillaging and genocide. It is a day when we celebrate the opening of the gateway to the New World in which you (presumably since you are reading the West Islip Patch) and I live today.
Tanii C. October 17, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Unless you are a Native Indian, then it's a day where you're reminded of the atrocities committed against your people.
AL October 18, 2011 at 03:01 AM
In addition he sailed for the spaniards and was born in Genoa. In addition hecpecficallybdid not commit the atrocities that the other highlight. He started the Spanish colonization and ultimately the European colonization of the new world. Moreover he was arrested by the Spanish monarchs and sent back to Spain. Every civilization from it's onset began with violence (Romans, greeks, Persians, Chinese, ottoman, English....etc). Different times back in 1490, no technology or diplomacy hence the only form of government behavior involved violence and imperialism. So christopher Columbus should be celebrated as a great explorer and who iniitiated the colonization of the modern world. I hope that educates j. Marshall and mr. Chin.
Tanii C. October 18, 2011 at 11:34 AM
First I really think I'm going to develop a complex if people keep referring to be as Tiny & Mr. Chin since I am neither. But anyhoo You are right Al I can neither prove nor disprove that Christoper Columbus himself actually raped and pillaged when he landed in the Bahamas. However him and men are directly responsible for the rape, pillaging, enslavement and ultimate genocide of the Arawak Indians and that in my humble opinion as a woman of Native Indian descent is nothing to celebrate. So to everyone who thinks Columbus is a hero or exemplifies what it is to be an Italian enjoy, as the victors you do have control of the pen that writes history. As for me and my family the 2nd Monday in October is just another day on the calendar that I may or may not have off or get a good deal on a purchase because I refuse to celebrate the beginning of the end of a great people.

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