This Columbus Day, we mark the 80th anniversary of the arrests, interments, curfews, and mass surveillance of more than 600,000 Italian American immigrants during World War II. Liberties and civil rights were stripped away by mere presidential proclamation, not for crimes but for heritage, language, and culture.
Targeting Italian American immigrants at the outset of the war was a terrible injustice, especially given that as many as 1.5 million men and women of Italian extraction served bravely in the U.S. Armed Forces during the conflict.
The many who died to preserve our way of life are in our prayers and hearts as National Columbus Day Parade organizers reenacted the solemn wreath-laying ceremony at the foot of the Columbus Memorial in Columbus Circle.
As we prepare to march up Fifth Avenue, we draw inspiration from their sacrifice, fully aware of the existential challenges and the complex struggles we face as a community. Our elected leaders seek to define who we are, to cut away our history — America’s history—and the contributions and legacy of our forebears.
Our President, in a repeat of 2021, has issued separate proclamations, one declaring Monday October 10 as Columbus Day and the second declaring the same day as Indigenous Peoples Day. Hopefully our Governor will not follow the President’s example in 2022. We do not believe this is respectful to either community. Although the proclamations do not officially change the holiday, we believe it sends the wrong message that offends both Indigenous People and Italian Americans.
For some, “half a Columbus Day” is not enough. The New York State Legislature, with veto-proof majorities in the Senate and the Assembly, has prepared legislation to wipe Columbus Day off the books in 2023.
First, they attack us, they call for the removal of our statues, and now they want to take away our holiday.
But they can not define us.
Election Day is upon us. Ask your elected representatives in Albany and Washington where they stand. Make an informed decision. Then take action with your ballot.
Remember, those seeking to destroy Columbus Day have identified Italian Americans as opposing Indigenous Peoples. On the contrary, we support a day set aside solely dedicated to recognizing the history, traditions, and contributions of those who trace their ancestry back to the first immigrants to populate the Western Hemisphere. This is the very meaning and essence of the Latin “E Pluribus Unum,” from the many, one.
The Columbus Heritage Coalition, a leader in the struggle to promote the true meaning of Columbus Day and Columbus memorials, is joining forces with the National Columbus Educational Foundation to bring to the classroom the lessons of a time when it was a crime to be Italian. Unfortunately, most school textbooks exclude this immigrant story. The Coalition is working to ensure this forgotten story is required reading in schools across the New York State just as it rightly requires the curriculum to cover such subjects as genocide, slavery, the Holocaust, and the Irish famine.
We believe we have the obligation to teach every student about these events and the important lessons about threats to the civil liberties of all Americans. I hope you agree.
Happy Columbus Day!
Columbus Heritage Coalition