Every Community Deserves Its Pride for its Own Roots and Identity

I feel honored to be back here to pay tribute to a great Italian historical figure and to a source of pride of the Italian American Community. At a moment when even the Columbus Parade can no longer be called as such in order not to hurt or offend anybody, it is important to ask ourselves why and what we are celebrating. It is crucial to explain it to the younger generations, notably the Italian American youth.

Columbus is in many respects and from many points of view a symbol. A symbol of human bravery, vision, and accomplishment. He is also the symbolic father of modern history, of the United States as we know it and of globalization. For others, he is the symbolic father of Eurocentric colonialism and oppression.

Very few historical figures bear such a heavy burden of conflicting symbolism and narratives.

For sure, if we had to judge by today’s ethical standards all the past historical figures, probably nobody would be spared.

It is necessary to know and acknowledge the historical events in all their complexities. However, the greatness and strength of America lie in its richness and diversity stemming from millions of migrants who arrived from all parts of the world.

Every single community deserves its pride for its own roots and identity as well as for its contribution to the prosperity of this great nation. Every community might also have its own legitimate historical grievances. In the past century, the Italians were the migrants, subject to bias and ethnic hatred. We were considered as non-white and were blatantly discriminated.

As a matter of fact, as you all know, Columbus Day was created by the then President Harrison in the wake of the lynching of 11 Italians in New Orleans as a bridge towards a community that already then was working hard to physically build this country and, in particular, this city.

It is not surprising that for a population treated as inferior, an Italian explorer who had crossed the ocean centuries before them and “discovered” America would become a figure to be proud of and an instrument of acknowledgement and integration.

Nowadays, somebody is suggesting that Italian Americans should change their symbol overnight in order not to hurt other people’s feelings. But what about Italian Americans’ feelings and their sense of identity? As representatives of the Italian Institutions in New York we profoundly respect the democratic dialectic within American society. At the same time, we cannot but wish for common sense to prevail so that no community is left behind or ignored. This is particularly true today at a moment when the City Council is discussing again the fate of certain statues, including a Columbus Statue in Central Park. We hope that compromises can be found, in order for both narratives to be preserved.

The Italian institutions stand by the Italian American community and fully understand its plight. In this regard just a few weeks ago the Italian President of the Council, Giorgia Meloni, with an unprecedented gesture, came here to lay a wreath at this very statue. Today we salute the presence of the Italian Minister of Culture, the Vice President of the Italian Parliament and a Senator of the Republic.

The Italian Americans are proud of their Italian heritage and culture which has permeated the whole world throughout the centuries. At the same time Italy is proud of the Italian American contribution to the greatness of the US and grateful for their bridging role between the two Countries.

The Italian institutions also praise your commitment to cherishing and preserving the Italian American heritage, your deep bond with your roots and your lingering gratitude towards your ancestors’ sacrifices which led to the fulfillment of the American dream. Viva l’Italia! God bless America!

Fabrizio Di Michele
Consul General of Italy in New York,
Wreath Laying Ceremony at Columbus Circle
New York, October 8th, 2023