I just read an article called “Columbus Day To Native American Day? CA Assemblyman Roger Hernandez Introduces Bill AB 55” by Anna Almendrala. In it, she discusses the possibility that Columbus Day will be replaced by a holiday called Native American Day in California. With us celebrating Martin Luther King Day today, and with Black History Month approaching in February, people definitely have minority rights and awareness on their minds. That brings up an interesting point.
Do you know what minority group fell victim to the largest lynching in US history? I’ll give you three hints.
1. It occurred in 1891.
2. It took place in Louisiana.
3. It was not African Americans.
It was Italian Americans.
I learned this dark part of my heritage in a fascinating piece called “When Italian Immigrants Were ‘The Other’” by Ed Falco.
New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy had been murdered, and nine Italians had been tried and found not guilty. Enraged, a mob stormed the jail. The nine innocent men, along with two Italians in jail on other charges, were taken and lynched. The police began arresting Italian immigrants throughout New Orleans. Throughout the country, Italian Americans were being assaulted.
The New York Times ran editorials supporting the attacks, calling Sicilans “sneaking and cowardly” and “a band of assassins” and supported New Orleans’ lynching approach as their only recourse.
Teddy Roosevelt, who wasn’t yet in office, said the lynchings were a “rather good thing,” and John Parker, lynch mob organizer who went on to become Louisiana’s governor, said Italians were “just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in their habits, lawless, and treacherous.”
I have no interest in taking away anyone’s right to celebrate their heritage. Ask my children, I’m the first one to complain every Thanksgiving that it’s a hypocritical holiday. Atheists celebrate it as a secular holiday, so obviously they don’t believe the pilgrims were thanking God for a bountiful harvest. Christians who do see the Grace of God in the holiday often forget the role the Native Americans played in the first Thanksgiving meal. And even when their role is remembered, no one acknowledges that the settlers simply turned around and stole their land from them after they saved their lives. So really, isn’t Thanksgiving more of a Native American Remembrance Day than Columbus Day?
Yes, Native Americans were here before us. I don’t know how they got here. Maybe they were here since Pangaea. Maybe they crossed the Bering Strait over a now melted glacial bridge. There is no denying though, they were here first and have first claim. That’s undisputed. There’s also evidence that the Vikings came and went before Columbus did. The Italians didn’t live here first. The Italians didn’t even find this land first. But it was Columbus who paved the way for mass exploration, resulting in the country that we’re all benefitting from today. Why not acknowledge that?
I’m saddened at the horrors that befell the native cultures who lived here. The explorers hundreds of years ago were conquerors, and they were hostile and brutal. The spread of disease and the treatment of women especially turns my stomach. We can’t change the past; we can only learn from it. So let’s not put cultures on pedestals. Let’s not forget that when the Europeans tried to buy the land, albeit for a ridiculously low sum, the natives accepted the offerings believing that in their culture, land couldn’t be purchased because it couldn’t be owned. It wasn’t just the Europeans who were duplicitous in their dealings.
I’m proud to be an American, just as I’m proud to be of Italian descent. I think it’s important to celebrate where we came from, but not to the point that we divide ourselves from the rest of our countrymen. There is no reason to take away a celebration from one culture and give it to another when we can set aside days for both cultures to celebrate their own histories, particularly when the cultures include a beautiful and strong one like the Italian culture that has been oppressed time and again, and an often forgotten and proud one like the Native American culture. Both cultures deserve a right to be acknowledged. I would happily celebrate a day that honors and remembers the Native American culture. I would also hope the people of this great nation can see the contributions of my culture, and can see a reason to honor it.
I see no reason why state legislators feel the need to waste time on divisive bills when there are obviously more important matters facing our nation. Let’s not let them get away with eroding our traditions or wasting our time and tax dollars. Instead, let’s uphold them to the principles that all our ancestors lived by—concern for the welfare of the people who inhabit this great nation.