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A Cambridge dilemma: How to rename Columbus Day while still honoring Italian-Americans

The Crimson reports.

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can out Cambridge itself.

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October is Italian-American heritage month. Screw Columbus day.

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How about "Three Ships Day"

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Wasn't that easy?

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You know he'd be working on a motion to rename Mass. Ave. as Columbus Ave.

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Honoring Italian Americans by celebrating Columbus is like trying to honor Russian Americans with a Stalin Day. He was a tremendously bad dude: pioneering slaver, murderer, rapist. It's plausible that he introduced syphilis to Europe.

There are tens of thousands of laudable Italians who deserve a day ahead of Columbus. How about Vespucci or Dante?

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Or Marconi?

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Machiavelli?
deSade?
Dimaggio?

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He still needs to be honored

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Leif Erikson Day. Leaf Day for short.

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and Leif.

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"For years now a growing number of my constituents have been of Italian decent, and I've come to know them well. They have honored me with their support and with their friendship. Indeed, I can proudly say that some of my very best friends are Italian-Americans. However, Mr. Chairman, at this time, very unfortunately, I have to leave these proceedings in order to preside over a very important committee, my own committee. But before I leave I do want to say this: that these hearings on the Mafia are in no way whatsoever a slur upon the great Italian people. Because I can state from my own knowledge and experience that Italian-Americans are among the most loyal, most law-abiding, patriotic, hard working American citizens in this land. And it would be a shame, Mr. Chairman, if we allowed a few rotten apples to give a bad name to the whole barrel. Because from the time of the great Christopher Columbus up through the time of Enrico Fermi right up until the present day, Italian-Americans have been pioneers in building and defending our great nation. They are the salt of the earth, and they're one of the backbones of this country."

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Feeling Good About Feeling Bad About the Bad Things that Happened to People We Approve of by People We Don't Approve of but Still Want To Honor Day

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May I suggest shelving your assumptions that the whole thing is silly, and consider the possibility that the guy may not be worthy of any honor at all?

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As a society we should learn that people can be more than one thing at a time. How many "heros" have a lot of dirt in their past? If you look close enough?

* Lots of presidents, including some of the most iconic, are pretty well known to have been adulterers. Not to mention MLK and some Televangelists. Teddy K had Chappequicick (sp?) while W drove drunk and took his military service pretty casually (2 quick examples; Pick your party and we can find plenty to criticize).

* Many of our founding fathers (Jefferson, Washington, etc) owned slaves and committed lots of sins, especially as measured by today's standards.

* Church officials who covered up horrific abuses for decades simultaneously ran school systems and charities that many credit with doing great things for thousands, probably millions of people.

* No doubt many the civic and business leaders who built many of our great institutions (cities, businesses, railways, the iPhone) did so, at least partially, on the back of people who can be described as exploited.

I don't really care what Cambridge does with Columbus Day. My point is just that everything isn't a simple binary.

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There are two problems with Columbus in particular:

First, even for his time period, he was a monstrous human being.

Second, he's not even worth celebrating for the thing he's celebrated for. He was not a good explorer or navigator. He thought the earth had a much smaller circumference than it does (everyone knew it was round). Trying to sail west to get to Asia, in the ships he used, was suicidal - it was too far by a significant amount. If the Americas hadn't happened to be in his way, he and all his crews would have died a horrible death at sea.

He wasn't the first European to find the Americas, he didn't realize he had found a new continent, nor did he prove it was new, and he didn't prove the earth was round.

My fellow Italian-Americans can do a lot better. If we need a 15/16th explorer with ties to America, how about the guy America is actually named after and wasn't a monster?

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But could you name the good thing that Columbus did?

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Helped to discover the Americas! The Columbus Exchange, which helped to create agricultural diversity in Europe and Africa.

What have you done?

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I've also discovered some already-inhabited lands. I also haven't slaughtered any indigenous folks while there. What do I win?

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Because I'm pretty sure your little discovery didn't open up the possibility of civilizing an uncivilized land.

Yeah, I said it.

As individual people, I can be convinced to weep for them. As a "civilization", not so much. Left to our own devices, we've been to the moon, peered into the atom, and invented (discovered?) the concept of pluralistic democracy. Left to their own devices, they would've been living in the same metaphorical grass huts and being illiterate*.

*Okay, the Mayans weren't illiterate completely; they had a scribes. But something something about human sacrifice.

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Though I agree overall, it's a weak case when you have adulterers next to slavers and rapists. I have no problem throwing the latter into the fire, after we cast shame upon them.

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But most of us know better than to lump adultery and W's National Guard time in with cutting the hands of natives for disobedience.

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It should be Magliozzi Day. The Our Fair City Parade should include a Dodge Dart and crushed 1965 AMC Ambassador.

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I second the motion!

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And the celebrations would be grand because all of MIT would really get into it!

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the name as Columbus Day. OMG, he did some things that people in the modern day don't (like nearly everyone else in that era did because it was the social norm) To those who are "offended" by this, I have three words - GET A LIFE.

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Genocide was a social norm?

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Were due to diseases!

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Though really only for recorded human history.

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Hey, so are you saying that it would be totally OK to have a Jim Crow Day or similar, because it was totally the social norm back then?

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...let's honor Kristallnacht. I mean, nowadays we'd think it wasn't very nice at all, but AT THE TIME...

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Also, let's stop teaching the Gallic Wars in Latin class because Caesar raped and pillaged his way across France.

And I guess I'd have to pick a new name for myself...couldn't be too Jewish though, since there was was and slavery and all that bad stuff back in biblical times.

We can just pick random hexadecimal digit sequences to use for our names, since all personal names probably have some cultural baggage associated with them.

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Also, let's stop teaching the Gallic Wars in Latin class because Caesar raped and pillaged his way across France.

If you don't understand the difference between teaching history and celebrating the monstrous deeds of the past, you really do need to go back to school.

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Somehow, I think your survey did not include any of the people who were here before Columbus arrived. They didn't actually like the things he did, oddly enough.

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The Aztecs and Incas seemed to like to do that sort of thing just fine until Cortez and Pizzaro did it to them. The new world wasn't populated by peace loving hippies you know.

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Columbus sent thousands of peaceful Taino “Indians” from the island of Hispaniola to Spain to be sold. Many died en route. Those left behind were forced to search for gold in mines and on plantations. Within 60 years after Columbus landed, only a few hundred of what may have been 250,000 Taino were left on their island.

The enslavement, torture, murder, and extermination of the native people of the West Indies followed quickly on the heels of Columbus and his men. It was obvious from Columbus’s journal that the Tainos were not as used to battle and warfare as the Spaniards. Columbus notes that “with 50 men you could subject everyone and make them do what you wished” and that the natives were “such cowards and so fearful” that they were, therefore, easy to rule. This idea was carried back to Europe, setting the tone for the relationship between the natives and the European explorers.

Then there was the wholesale rape of native women, which Columbus was not shy about describing. He was a rat.

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I still don't understand how "Italian-Americans" (of which I am one, by the way, if people wish to define themselves with such hyphens) can claim Columbus as a "hero", when he was in fact, basically rejected by his native country and sailed under the Spanish flag.

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I figure it went like this: the American founders venerated Columbus as a fuck-you to the British, who were all about John Cabot (also Italian!).

Then a century or so later, when Italian immigrants were trying to assimilate, they were eager to point out that Cristoforo Colombo was one of theirs.

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Bartolomé de las Casas Day!

Although IMO Seattle did it right with Indigenous People day -- some acknowledgement of those who got steamrolled by colonial powers. But god forbid we offend the Italian-Americans.....

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On Colombus' legacy:

(The Spaniards) thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades....

They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike.

There were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it....

Bartoleme de Las Casas, writing in the mid 16th century, on his experiences during the conquests of Hispaniola.

Of all the people in history to celebrate, be they Italian or not, what possible justification is there for a facilitator of genocide like Colombus?

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They don't need to cling to that scum, Christopher Columbus.

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They resign? Getting paid six figures to come up with this sort of crap is pretty damn ridiculous, if you ask me.

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but what do you do with all of these?

Columbus Avenue (in Boston and in NYC, and probably other places)
Columbus, Ohio (where I'm from)
Columbus, Indiana
Columbus, Georgia
Columbia Street ... in *Cambridge*
Columbia Road
Columbia University
Columbia River
District of Columbia
Columbia, Missouri
Colombia (the country)
....

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Bloodbuzz

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I'm going out on a limb here, but my guess is... nothing?

There's a difference between celebrating a person every year and having geographical landmarks bear his name.

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You know who gets days like Columbus Day and Bunker Hill Day and Day Before The Day After Somebody's Birthday off? Schoolkids and public employees. It's on the holiday calendar; they have to either observe it, remove it, or rename it. They don't have to concern themselves with the Columbia River (not their river), Columbia Missouri (not their city), Colombia (not their country). Get it?

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And maybe they'll change it. What do you even care? Are you making the classic bogus "oh well if you don't fix EVERYTHING you're not allowed to fix ANYTHING" pseudo-argument?

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the perfect should be the enemy of the good. Incremental change is for suckers; if we can't fix everything all at once, we should go lie down in a ditch and wait for the sweet release of death.

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People devoting much of their time to worrying about holidays that few actually celebrate for their original intended purpose might want to instead spend that time volunteering at a homeless shelfter or other such worthy cause. Thanks.

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Thanks? I'll thank you to keep your suggestions to yourself on the subject what other people should be concerned about. It's none of your business, is it? You do the right thing by whatever means seems right to you, and if that means "spend[ing] that time volunteering at a homeless shelter" (connection to Columbus Day, exactly none), well hurray for you.

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Still celebrates genocide for the "traditionalists" without celebrating a specific personage.

Also pisses off the right wingers, for bonus points.

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Refugee Day.

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Rename it Civilization Day.

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Columbus Day celebrates a syphilitic genocidal killer who was a bad navigator to boot. St. Patrick's Day, a solemn religious observance in Ireland, is an excuse to get as drunk as humanly possible and act like an idiot here in the US. Cinco de Mayo is non-existent in Mexico. Any excuse for a holiday I suppose.

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Maybe we need "bank holidays", whatever those are. The euros have them, and they seem to be completely history-free, content-free, obligation-free days that everybody gets off.

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Columbus was born on the last day of October. How about moving the holiday to that date? It would be nice to finally have a holiday on October 31.

Keeping Columbus Day on October 10 when he discovered America would be like celebrating MLK day in August when he gave the i have a dream speech. Who in their right mind wants a holiday in August when it's so hot outside? Much better to have a day off in mid-January when you won't be bothered by sunlight.

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Eliminate Columbus Day and move the federal holiday to Nov 4th so more people can vote easily.

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Or we could implement Vote By Mail. I know people here think Oregon is backwards, but if you exclude crazy people driving up from "The Wild West" it's actually got some good ideas.

But that's a whole other can of worms...

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and have never thought of Oregon as backwards; neither do I know anyone else from here who thinks that.

Cambridge is like a bad comedy skit, except it's real life.

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Cambridge is named after Cambridge England. It was the English not the Italians that massacred the native American tribes of North America.

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You forgot about Poland Spain and France.

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Time to honor the most recent proud sons of Cambridge, Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev. No doubt, the current City Council and many residents would get behind it.

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... um, Hades.

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Right on time with a stupid irrelevant pointless bit of shit-stirring, is our own Fish.

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What's next? Valentine's Day?

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Did St. Valentine contribute to genocide on two continents? Or just a lot of wasted money on roses?

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I'm not sure I get why Americans need to celebrate an Italian from the middle ages. Italy, as it is today, didn't even exist then; Columbus wasn't really a national as he was a sailor; and as others have pointed out, Columbus was funded by Spain anyway. He's got very little to do with the US, may never have set foot on the actual continent of the US, and was certainly not the first person or even european to set foot here, and did not realize he had even made a discovery, if you want to call it that... and if I were Italian, I would be quick to point all of these thing out because, while I can think of dozens of great Italians (let's face it, we have them to thank for the renaissance and for many of the "Enlightenment" ideas that shaped the founding of modern science and the principles on which our country and modern democracy were founded, not to mention dozens of huge contributions since then), Columbus was at least somewhat recognized as mad and terrible even in his heyday (also notably the heyday of witch trials and serfdom, so let's put some context on what someone had to be like to get a reputation) and he seems like The Worst Spokesperson for an honestly really amazing community.

Also, nobody else gets a national holiday for their racial spokesperson (You could make an argument about MLK day, but I don't think it holds up). Why are we so worried about treating Italian Americans as just Americans?

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