Advertisement

‘Columbus Might Be Dwarfed to Obscurity’: Italian Americans’ Engagement with Columbus Monuments in a Time of Decolonization

  • Laura E. RubertoEmail author
  • Joseph Sciorra
Chapter
  • 6 Downloads
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies book series (PMMS)

Abstract

With the ongoing ‘decolonization’ actions of Christopher Columbus’s legacy in the United States, Italian Americans have been challenged to contend with their historical affiliation with and championing of this historical figure. This chapter focuses on two contemporary cases involving calls to remove memorializations of Columbus—Manhattan’s large-scale Columbus Circle monument and the smaller Columbus statue in San Jose City Hall in California—so as to consider the roles collective memory and ideology play with civic monuments and public art. Building on Pierre Nora’s notion of rememoration the authors position Columbian material culture as sites of memory whereby contemporary Italian Americans use rhetorical strategies to defend or decry monuments originally gifted primarily by Italian immigrants to U.S. municipalities, in light of mounting criticism against them in the present. Scrutinizing various histories and debates, the chapter sheds light on the dynamic experiences and actions of Italian Americans, a white ethnic group often misguidedly defined in limiting terms.

Notes

Acknowledgement

We would like to thank Yiorgos Anagnostou, Siân Gibby, and Dell Upton for their suggestions on earlier versions of this article. We also received feedback from Marta Gutman and others as part of the Columbia University Seminar in Modern Italian Studies, as well as from participants of the 2019 Memory Studies Association conference. We are grateful to Melinda Riddle and Lucinda Norman of the city of San Jose for arranging an interview with the mayor and gathering some of the city’s archived materials for us.

References

  1. Abolition/Replacement of Columbus Day as Federal Holiday (Online Petition). https://www.change.org/p/nocolumbusday. Accessed 20 May 2019.
  2. Arnold, M. (1992, October 11). In Bay Area, Columbus Day Runs Aground: Holiday: American Indians Plan to Demonstrate at the Festivities. But Italian-Americans View the Events as a Source of Pride. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-10-11-mn-456-story.html. Accessed 20 May 2019.
  3. Attacks by KKK. http://www.truthaboutcolumbus.com/attacks-by-kkk/. Accessed 20 May 2019.
  4. Battisti, D. (2019). ‘Whom We Shall Welcome’: Italian Americans and Immigration Reform 1945–1965. New York: Fordham University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benjamin, W. (1969). Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books.Google Scholar
  6. Borelli, K. (2019, January 17). Email Message to Laura E. Ruberto.Google Scholar
  7. Bradley, C. J. (1990). Towards a Celebration: The Columbus Monument in New York. In P. A. Sensi-Isolani & A. J. Tamburri (Eds.), Italian Americans Celebrate Life. The Arts and Popular Culture (pp. 81–94). Staten Island: American Italian Historical Association.Google Scholar
  8. Calhoun, P. (2016, October 10). Goodbye, Columbus: Happy Indigenous People’s Day, Denver. Westword. https://www.westword.com/news/goodbye-columbus-happy-indigenous-peoples-day-denver-8390819. Accessed 20 May 2019.
  9. Caron, C. (2018, October 5). Why Some Italian-Americans Still Fiercely Defend Columbus Day. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/05/us/columbus-day-italians-indigenous-peoples-day.html. Accessed 20 May 2019.
  10. Castorina Jr., R. (2017, August 28). Attack on Columbus Statue Is An Attack on a Proud Immigrant Heritage (Commentary). https://www.silive.com/opinion/columns/2017/08/attack_on_columbus_statue_is_a.html. Accessed 28 May 2019.
  11. Cerulli, S. J. (2019). Italian/Americans and the American Racial System: Contadini to Settler Colonists? Master’s thesis at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4227&context=gc_etds. Accessed 29 May 2019.
  12. Chen, J. (2017, August 22). ‘Revisionist History’ at Play in Call to Remove Columbus Monument, Pol Says. DNA Info. https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170822/columbus-circle/assemblymember-contests-speaker-request-remove-columbus-statue/ Accessed 22 May 2019.
  13. Connell, W. J., & Gardaphé, F. (Eds.). (2010). Anti-Italianism: Essays on a Prejudice. New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  14. Conservancy Helps Preserve a Piece of Italian-American History. (2018, November). New York Landmarks Conservancy. http://www.nylandmarks.org/advocacy/preservation_issues/conservancy_helps_preserve_a_piece_of_italian-american_history/. Accessed 29 May 2019.
  15. De Blasio, Albanese Face Off in Final Democratic Mayoral Primary Debate. (2017, September 6). CBS New York. https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2017/09/06/de-blasio-albanese-mayoral-debate/. Accessed 29 May 2019.
  16. De Blasio, Bill (@NYCMayor). (2017, August 16). After the Violent Events in Charlottesville, New York City Will Conduct a 90-Day Review of All Symbols of Hate on City Property. 2:02 PM. Tweet. https://twitter.com/NYCMayor/status/897926610271166464. Accessed 22 May 2019.
  17. Denounced By His Countrymen: Italians Object To Carlo Barsotti As Their Representative. (1892, May 24). New York Times, p. 3. http://queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu/docview/95026530?accountid=13379. Accessed 6 June 2019.
  18. DeRuy, E. (2018, January 30). San Jose City Council votes to remove controversial Christopher Columbus statue. The Mercury News. https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/01/30/residents-pack-city-council-meeting-ahead-of-controversial-christopher-columbus-vote/. Accessed 28 May 2019.
  19. Deschamps, B. (2001). Italian-Americans and Columbus Day: A Quest for Consensus Between National and Group Identities, 1840–1910. In J. Heideking, G. Fabre, & K. Dreisbach (Eds.), Celebrating Ethnicity and Nation: American Festive Culture from the Revolution to the Early Twentieth Century (pp. 124–139). New York: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  20. Deschamps, B. (2015). ‘The cornerstone is laid: Italian-American Memorial Building in New York City and Immigrants’ Right to the City at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. European Journal of American Studies, 10(3), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. di Leonardo, M. (1984). The Varieties of Ethnic Experience: Kinship, Class, and Gender among California Italian-Americans. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  22. di Prima, D. (2008). Whose Day Is It Anyway? In Italian-American Political Solidarity Club (Ed.), Avanti Popolo: Italian-American Writers Sail Beyond Columbus (pp. 13–16). San Francisco: Manic D Press.Google Scholar
  23. Fachin, D. (2012). Columbus Day Legacy (film review) Italian American Review 2 (2), 135–139.Google Scholar
  24. Gabaccia, D. (2000). Italy’s Many Diasporas. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  25. Gonen, Y. (2017). GOP Candidate: De Blasio Should Use His Given German Name. New York Post, September 7. https://nypost.com/2017/09/07/gop-candidate-de-blasio-should-use-his-given-german-name/. Accessed 29 May 2019.
  26. Governor Cuomo Announces Columbus Monument Listed on State Register of Historic Places and Recommended to National Register. (2018, October 8). https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-columbus-monument-listed-state-register-historic-places-and. Accessed 29 May 2018.
  27. Guglielmo, T. A. (2003). White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890–1945. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Guglielmo, J., & Salerno, S. (Eds.). (2003). Are Italians White?: How Race Is Made in America. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Halbwachs, M. (1980). The Collective Memory. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  30. Harney, R. F. (1993). Caboto and Other Parentela: The Use of the Italian Canadian Past. In N. D. M. Harney (Ed.), From the Shores of Hardship: Italians in Canada, Essays by Robert F. Harney (pp. 5–27). Lewiston: SOLEIL.Google Scholar
  31. Heins, S. (2017a, August 17). De Blasio Announces Plan To Take Down NYC’s ‘Hate Symbols’. Gothamist. http://gothamist.com/2017/08/17/bill_de_blasio_hate_symbol_review.php. Accessed 22 May 2019.
  32. Heins, S. (2017b). City Council Speaker Suggests Christopher Columbus Statue Is a Hate Symbol. Gothamist. http://gothamist.com/2017/08/22/not_so_columbus_circle.php. Accessed 22 May 2019.
  33. Hitchmough, S. (2013). ‘It’s Not Your Country Any More’: Contested National Narratives and the Columbus Day Parade Protests in Denver. European Journal of American Culture, 32(3), 263–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Italian Americans for a Multicultural United States. (1992). Founding Statement (flyer) January.Google Scholar
  35. Italian Americans Rally to Keep Christopher Columbus Statue in Columbus Circle. (2017, August 24). CBS New York. https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2017/08/24/nyc-christopher-columbus-statue-rally/. Accessed 28 May 2019.
  36. Italian-American Political Solidarity Club. (2008). Avanti Popolo: Italian-American Writers Sail Beyond Columbus. San Francisco: Manic D Press.Google Scholar
  37. Jacobson, M. F. (2006). Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights American. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kilgannon, C. (2017, September 29). Massapequa Will Take Statues of Columbus, Unwanted Elsewhere. New York Times, p. A23.Google Scholar
  39. Klain (Navajo), B. (2011). Columbus Day Legacy. A TricksterFilms, LLC Production.Google Scholar
  40. Kollatz Jr., H. (2014, October 13). Columbus Discovered. Richmond Magazine. https://richmondmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/columbus-discovered/. Accessed 20 May 2019.
  41. Kubal, T. (2008). Cultural Movements and Collective Memory: Christopher Columbus and the Rewriting of the National Origin Myth. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Levinson, S. (1998). Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Liccardo, Samuel. (2019, January 17). Interview with Laura E. Ruberto.Google Scholar
  44. Little Italy San Jose Newsletter, Email, March 2018.Google Scholar
  45. Luconi, S. (2012). Columbus and Vespucci as Italian Navigators: The Ethnic Legacy of Explorations and Italian Americans’ Search for Legitimacy in the United States. In Florence in Italy and Abroad from Vespucci to Contemporary Innovators (pp. 62–77). Florence: Florence Campus Publishing House.Google Scholar
  46. Luconi, S. (2016). Opera as a Nationalistic Weapon: The Erection of the Monument to Giuseppe Verdi in New York City. Italian Americana, 34(3), 37–61.Google Scholar
  47. Matthews, G. (2003). Silicon Valley, Women, and the California Dream: Gender, Class, and Opportunity in the Twentieth Century. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers Report to the City of New York (Public Testimony). (2018a). https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/monuments/downloads/pdf/monuments-commission-borough-testimony.pdf. Accessed 29 May 2019.
  49. Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers Report to the City of New York (Report). (2018b). https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/monuments/downloads/pdf/mac-monuments-report.pdf. Accessed 29 May 2019.
  50. McKevitt, G. (1992–1993). Christopher Columbus as a Civic Saint: Angelo Noce and Italian American Assimilation. California History, 71(4), 516–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mignone, M. B. (1993). Columbus: Meetings of Cultures (Symposium Proceedings). Stony Brook: Forum Italicum, Inc.Google Scholar
  52. No Columbus Day. https://nocolumbusday.wordpress.com/. Accessed 28 May 2019.
  53. Noce, A. 1910. Columbus Day in Colorado. Angelo Noce: Denver. https://archive.org/details/columbusdayincol00noce/page/24. Accessed 22 May 2019.
  54. Nora, P. (1989). Between Memory and History. Les Lieux de Mémoire. Representations, 26, 7–24.Google Scholar
  55. Nora, P. (1996). From Lieux de mémoire to Realms of Memory. In L. D. Kritzman (Ed.), Realms of Memory. Vol. I: Conflicts and Divisions (pp. xv–xxiv). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Nora, P. (2002, April 19). Reasons for the Current Upsurge in Memory. Eurozine, pp. 1–9. https://www.eurozine.com/reasons-for-the-current-upsurge-in-memory/?pdf. Accessed 21 May 2019.
  57. Norkunas, M. K. (1993). The Politics of Public Memory: Tourism, History, and Ethnicity in Monterey, California. New York: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  58. Pozzetta, G. E. (1971). The Italians of New York City, 1890–1914. Dissertation at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.Google Scholar
  59. Pozzetta, G. E, & Mormino, G. R. 1998, January–June 17. The Politics of Christopher Columbus and World War II. Altreitalie, pp. 6–15.Google Scholar
  60. Progressive Italians to Transform the Columbus Holiday (PITCH). Statement in Support of a Respectful Celebration of Italian Heritage. https://www.transformcolumbusday.org/pitch.html. Accessed 20 May 2019.
  61. Rally to Keep Christopher Columbus Statue at Columbus Circle. (2017, August 24). ABC7NY. https://abc7ny.com/society/rally-to-keep-christopher-columbus-statue-at-columbus-circle/2337106/. Accessed 29 May 2019.
  62. Richards, D. A. J. (1999). Italian American: The Racializing of an Ethnic Identity. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Ruberto, L. E., & J. Sciorra. (2017a, October 4). Recontextualizing the Ocean Blue: Italian Americans and the Commemoration of Columbus. Process: A Blog for American History. http://www.processhistory.org/recontextualizing-the-ocean-blue/. 29 May 2019.
  64. Ruberto, L. E., & Sciorra, J. (2017b). Introduction: Rebooting Italian America. In L. E. Ruberto & J. Sciorra (Eds.), New Italian Migrations to the United States, Vol. 2: Art and Culture Since 1945 (pp. 1–31). Chicago: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  65. Sager, S. (2017). Confederate Symbols to Be Removed from Bronx Community College. ABC7NY. https://abc7ny.com/society/confederate-symbols-to-be-removed-from-bronx-college/2317187/. Accessed 22 May 2019.
  66. San Jose City Council Votes to Remove Controversial Christopher Columbus Statue. (2018, January 30). San Jose Mercury News. https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/01/30/residents-pack-city-council-meeting-ahead-of-controversial-christopher-columbus-vote/. Accessed 28 May 2019.
  67. Scheihing, W. (2014, October 12). Born Amid KKK Backlash, Columbus Statue Endures. The Morning Call. https://www.mcall.com/mc-kkk-fought-easton-columbus-statue-20141011-story.html. Accessed 20 May 2019.
  68. Schlereth, T. J. (1992). Columbia, Columbus, and Columbians. The Journal of American History, 79(3), 937–968.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Sciorra, J. (2011). Introduction: Listening with an Accent. In J. Sciorra (Ed.), Italian Folk: Vernacular Culture in Italian-American Lives (pp. 1–10). New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Stone, M. (2010). Potere e spiritualità: La Mostra degli artisti italiani in armi del 1942. Memoria e ricerca, 33(Gennaio – Aprile), 63–79.Google Scholar
  71. Sutton, B. (2017, December 1). Over 120 Prominent Artists and Scholars Call on NYC to Take Down Racist Monuments. Hyperallergic. . https://hyperallergic.com/414315/over-120-prominent-artists-and-scholars-call-on-nyc-to-take-down-racist-monuments/. Accessed 29 May 2019.
  72. Thorne, K. (2017, September 25). Long Island Town Wants Discarded Columbus Statues. New York Times. https://abc7ny.com/society/long-island-town-wants-discarded-columbus-statues-/2452701/. Accessed 1 May 2019.
  73. Thousands Gather To Honor Columbus. (1937, October 13). New York Times. (1923-Current File), p. 3. http://queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu/docview/102281596?accountid=13379. Accessed 6 June 2019.
  74. Tusiani, J. (2000). Ethnicity: Selected Poems. West Lafayette: Bordighera Press.Google Scholar
  75. United Native America. (2001, April 4). Mayor of San Jose, CA Will Rebuild Columbus Statue (Press Release). http://www.unitednativeamerica.com/press/rebuild.html. Accessed 1 Nov 2019.
  76. van der Krogt, P. Undated. Columbus Monuments Pages. https://columbus.vanderkrogt.net/. Accessed 20 May 2019.
  77. Vellon, P. G. (2014). A Great Conspiracy against Our Race: Italian Immigrant Newspapers and the Construction of Whiteness in the Early 20th Century. New York: New York University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Viscusi, R. (1993). An Oration Upon the Most Recent Death of Christopher Columbus. West Lafayette: Bordighera Press.Google Scholar
  79. Vivolo, A. (2017, August 25). The Columbus Citizens Foundation Is Committed to the Preservation of the Columbus Monument at Columbus Circle (Paid Ad). New York Times, p. A21.Google Scholar
  80. Williams, J. (2019). Mayor Cantrell apologizes for 1891 Italian-American lynchings in New Orleans: ‘What happened was wrong’. Nola. https://www.nola.com/news/article_ebd61396-a013-5b22-8171-bd8bd7416a88.html. Accessed 21 November 2019.
  81. Zimmer, K. (2015). Immigrants against the State: Yiddish and Italian Anarchism in America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar

Archival Material

  1. San Jose, City Hall, Columbus Statue, San Jose Mercury News Clipping File, California Room, San Jose Public Library.Google Scholar
  2.  23 March 1958.Google Scholar
  3.  27 March 1958.Google Scholar
  4.  30 September 1958.Google Scholar
  5.  9 March 2001.Google Scholar
  6.  10 March 2001.Google Scholar
  7.  23 December 2001.Google Scholar
  8. San Jose City Clerk Files, City Hall.Google Scholar
  9.  17 March 1958, San Jose City Hall minutes.Google Scholar
  10.  13 September 2017, San Jose City Hall Memorandum.Google Scholar
  11.  29 November 2017, San Jose City Hall Memorandum.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Berkeley City CollegeBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Queens College, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations