By: Basil M. Russo, ISDA President
The tragic death of George Floyd has unleashed a watershed moment in our history, as police brutality and calls for racial justice echo through our cities, neighborhoods, hearts and minds.
However, the progress made by peaceful protests has been undercut by vandals who have destroyed and defaced businesses, government buildings and our Christopher Columbus monuments, which were built to honor and uplift Italian American communities.
Several cities, in the hopes of avoiding unrest, have bowed to the political fever pitch of misinformed individuals who rely on fabrication rather than fact when they falsely argue that these monuments are symbols of hate and oppression.
On Friday, police stood guard around Columbus statues in New York City, as Americans celebrated Juneteenth — a momentous day in 1865 where more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans learned that they were free.
If the NYPD hadn’t been there to safeguard our history, the statues would have likely been vandalized or destroyed by protesters who would rather break the law than discuss the issue on its merits.
These lawless actions run counter to the Floyd and Juneteenth movement, that stress equality and justice.
This ongoing mob rule must end, and we demand that these bad actors put down their saws and spray paint, and pick up a history book that details the origin of these monuments and their deep connection to the Italian American community.
The meaning of Columbus to Italian Americans
The time-honored Columbus Day parades and monument construction began in the late 1800s as Italian immigrants attempted to create a sense of dignity during a period where they were subjected to lynchings, bigotry and prejudice throughout the country.
The parades enabled our communities to flourish and the statues symbolized perseverance against a wave of discrimination.
Those origins are deeply rooted in our culture, and these statues don’t carry the same undercurrent of controversy that runs through Confederate monuments.
These statues represent a time that is not all too dissimilar from the racial injustice going on today. Italian Sons and Daughters of America supports meaningful social reforms for the African American community as well as Indigenous Peoples, and we want to peacefully carve a path forward that allows for free expression and informed discussion from all sides.
We must all resist violent and destructive acts and focus on the message that real change needs to happen in America, but not at the expense of the Italian American heritage.
Columbus’s journey launched 500 years of immigration to America, attracting peoples from throughout the world seeking a better life for their families — this is the spirit we champion and are fighting to preserve, and this is what the Columbus statues stand for.
Watch below as we explore the strong emotional connection that has evolved over time between Columbus and the celebration of our Italian American heritage: