Civic Leadership in America, Take Note on how to Discuss Columbus

City leaders take note - this is how you discuss Columbus.

Pueblo’s Columbus Day Weekend a Display of Debate with Honor & Respect

Pueblo Colorado is an example of how a civilized society treats each other. While Columbus Day of 2020 witnessed turmoil in what’s left of Portland, a bright light of reason and goodwill illuminated Pueblo Colorado.

The Indigenous community of the Pueblo area agreed to peacefully hold their 2020 protest against the Columbus statue on Sunday October 11th, instead of on Monday, Columbus Day. This gave both cultures time to express themselves separately and peacefully. This wonderful display shows how mutual respect during debate works in building and maintaining a community.

It is clearly understood that Christopher Columbus means an entirely different thing to the Indigenous people of the area, than to the local Italian-American community, and that difference is being mediated between the two communities and the Pueblo city council. The chasm in misunderstanding is attributable to a societal disagreement that essentially stems from assumptions built on myth and pseudo-history, versus what is evidence-based fact. Christopher Columbus is one of the most pivotal and historically significant figures in human history, and deserves continued thorough study. Only through an evidence-based approach can we understand Columbus and his personal actions, versus the noise of myth and disinformation.

Many indigenous people believe Columbus was responsible for the destruction of Indigenous culture in America, while Italian-Americans see him as the symbol of our inclusion into American society. Many members of the Italian-American community feel that Columbus is being unfairly blamed for the savagery of the Spanish crew members and court officers from the second voyage, who greatly outnumbered Columbus. He was also subjected to deliberate libel by Francesco de Bobadilla, who maneuvered to control Hispaniola. The Spanish Crown-funded Conquistadors that began their exploration and conquest of the Americas in 1511 were obviously not under Columbus’ control. Columbus died in Spain in 1506.

Spanish Conquistadors penetrated far into the Americas, and came into contact with some Indigenous nations in the western and southern part of the North American continent. Columbus, however, did not. Columbus never set foot in North America, nor ever even knew that there was another continent north of the West Indies islands that he originally landed on. Columbus and the Indigenous People of North America never met, making any claim of genocide on that continent completely ruled out. This particular point might be part of the mediation. There needs to be a clear accounting of all evidence-based facts, so a determination of Columbus’ actions can be made. This could only help mediation.

As I’ve detailed in my article called Why Columbus Day of 1942 is so Meaningful Today, I describe how Columbus Day is seen as a peace offering between the United States and the Italian-American community. Columbus Day is tied to two pivotal events in the Italian-American journey; the mass lynching of innocent Italians in New Orleans by a mob of 10,000 people in 1891, and the Internment and Civil Rights Violations our community lived through during World War 2, a devastating event whose eventual end was announced on Columbus Day of 1942, well in advance of the actual release date. It would take another year for Italian Internees to be released from the detention camps.

Nowhere in our history does Italian-America celebrate anything other than that symbol of our acceptance into American society that his holiday represents to us. We also value his incredible navigating skill – Italians have a long history of scientific and technical achievement, so his seafaring abilities are a source of pride to many people of Italian descent.

On the same note, the conquest of the Indigenous people of America has never been something our culture has ever celebrated, and it never would be. Our own history is all too familiar with having our own land occupied, our assets plundered, our people harmed, as well as being colonialized and overrun by foreign powers like the Ottomans and the Nazis. We simply would never wish that treatment on any other culture. And this is where we are today – celebrating a day named after the key person that has historically represented our acceptance into American society, while also trying to explain the details as to why he is celebrated.

I think that I can speak for Americans of Italian descent when I say that we understand the point of the Indigenous people of North America. They were egregiously harmed by the maneuvering of the English Crown before the War of Independence, and then systematically cheated by many successive administrations of the United States government. The result has been centuries of marginalization and loss.

Somewhere in that history there is a significant gap between Columbus the man, and the harm perpetrated by successive governments on the Native North Americans. There is no shortage of primary sources that, when considered in total, paint a much different picture of Columbus than his detractors know.

How will this debate work? The Pueblo city council has agreed not to make the statue an issue for the voters. This puts the discussion firmly between the Indigenous community, the Italian-American community and the city council.  This is not only where the discussion belongs, but it models competent leadership for other towns and cities across America. For a specific and delicate issue like this, it is a welcome way to filter out the noise of an uninformed public that believes the spin and disinformation on social media. That interference is isolated so a real discussion can take place.

America’s state and city governments: pay attention to this model of administration. This is how successful civic discourse is done. Debate with mutual respect. This is welcome cooperation, and models how advanced societies work.

The City of Pueblo is considering a multi-cultural center in front of the Rawlings Library, which would include the Columbus bust, as well as statues representing the Indigenous community and African-American community. That is real inclusion. When people decide to work together, good things happen.


Author: Robert Lanni