49. Columbus Day

Saturday night, the Swarthmore College community got a message from the Provost regarding Indigenous Peoples Day, formerly known as Columbus Day. She wrote:

“… the choice to celebrate Columbus served multiple purposes in the United States: to many, it was aspirational in attempting to end anti-Italian and anti-Catholic bigotry while simultaneously to many others, it justified the genocide of millions of Native peoples and obfuscated centuries of trauma wrought by settler colonialism.”

It seems that the Italian consulate in Philadelphia didn’t get the memo, as since 2014 it has presented the “Ciao Italia” festival throughout the entire month of October. The festival includes a range of Italian and Italian-American cultural activities, such as tours of the Renaissance paintings in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, lectures on the Mediterranean diet, a demonstration of the Ferraris at the Simeone Car Museum (no relation), performances of the opera Romeo and Juliet, pastry-baking instructions, tours of historic South Philadelphia, and yes, a laying of a wreath at the statue of Columbus.

As part of this month of cultural celebration, I went to a concert of avant-garde music by Duo Alterno, a pianist and singer from Torino. Although both appeared to be classically-trained musicians, much of the music, for reasons I don’t understand, involved making cat noises. Not what one would expect, necessarily, but hey, why not?

I definitely get that Columbus was the first to set in motion a chain of events that was catastrophic for Native people in the Western Hemisphere. And I am fully in sympathy with the Swarthmore Indigenous Students Association. And yet, as an Italian-American, I hope we will continue to collectively celebrate our Italian roots, Columbus aside, during the month of October.

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