Please, Andrew Cuomo, The Columbus Statues Are Embarrassing. Let Them Go.
Every year, around Columbus Day, I go on a rant — either here or on Twitter — about how much I freakin' hate Columbus Day. This year, that rant is coming a little earlier than usual, on account of all the Columbus statues getting beheaded everywhere and Andrew Cuomo being super embarrassing.
I could not be more in favor of all of the Columbus statues getting beheaded. Christopher Columbus was a genocidal maniac who not only didn't ever "discover America" (you can't "discover" land that people already live on), he never even made it all the way here. He did not prove that the earth wasn't flat, as people used to say, because people were well-aware that the earth was not flat at that time. Especially sailors! He also, really, wasn't even "Italian" as we understand it now, because "Italy" wasn't a unified country until 1870. Columbus was a Genoan. Genoa, at the time of Cristoffa Corombo, was an independent republic.
Andrew Cuomo, who, like me, is Italian-American, is very sad about the Columbus statues coming down and, yesterday, explained why he didn't want the one in New York to come down.
With protesters attacking statues of Columbus in recent days during anti-racist demonstrations, Cuomo was asked by a reporter whether it was time for monuments in the state celebrating the Italian explorer to go.
Absolutely not, said Cuomo, an Italian-American.
"I understand the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts, which nobody would support," Cuomo said at a briefing. "But the statue has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian-American contribution to New York."
Has it? Does anyone actually look at a Christopher Columbus statue and go "Wow! I sure do appreciate the contributions of Italian-Americans who came here hundreds of years after he set sail to not discover America!" I don't think they do. Personally, I think we've contributed a hell of a lot more than one dude who never even set foot in the United States.
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In fact, what did he even do? Like, other than enslave, murder, and rape people? He sailed a bunch? Cool, so did Popeye! You know what Popeye never did? Congratulate his brother on "defending the family" by forcing a woman who suggested he was "of lowly birth" to walk naked down the street and then cutting her tongue out! He also never paraded anyone's dismembered body down the street in order to quash thoughts of rebellion.
Popeye also, we hope, never sold nine-year-olds as sex slaves to anyone:
"A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand."
Those were just "some of his acts."
If we're gonna erect statues to him, why not erect some to the Hillside Stranglers, Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi — who, arguably, were less horrifying? They only killed 12 people, collectively — far fewer than Columbus. Also, unlike Columbus, Bianchi actually set foot in New York (Rochester, anyway).
To me, those statues don't represent the contributions of Italian-Americans to America. They don't even just represent all of the horrific things Christopher Columbus did. They represent fear. Those statues weren't erected because "Yay us, we're so great!" — they were erected because the country was filled with America First bigots who didn't think our swarthy asses should be here. Just like they don't think other people should be here now.
I didn't know the actual first names of about half of my relatives on my father's side until I started doing some genealogy research, for the purpose of getting our Italian passports. They had all Anglicized their names for the purpose of assimilating — to be, as they say Medigan. Even my dad did not know his own mother's actual first name and damn, that broke my heart.
Columbus, to me, represents that part of our history in the United States. He doesn't have shit to do with anything any of us have done or accomplished or contributed since we've been here. He's just a symbol of what we had to do to assimilate, in order to shed our "otherness." He is a symbol of how absolutely shitty the United States has been, historically and now, to immigrants. He is a symbol of the fact that many of us chose to side with the oppressors instead of standing in solidarity with the oppressed. He is a symbol of submission.
I agree with getting rid of statues of Christopher Columbus simply because he was a genocidal maniac and sadist. And since he loved dismembering people so much, what honors his legacy more than beheading all of them?
But I also think we should get rid of them because the historical push for all things Columbus to represent the Italian-American community is just so incredibly sad. This is not a story of proving the earth is round or of discovery, it is the story of desperate people trying to find something they can use as a shield against bigotry.
It says something that most of the people who defend these statues are the exact same people those statues were erected as a bulwark against. Andrew Cuomo should know better than to side with them.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse