How did we get here from there?

10-15-2017Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue…so goes the rhyme. But now some in our fair land want to send Columbus back to ‘the other side” as my grandmother would say. The other side of the ocean that is. But what we have once again is some who insist on judging yesterday’s behavior with today’s information.

During its heyday, if you can call it that, the Klu Klux Klan targeted statues of Columbus and all things that were associated with the explorer. Christopher Columbus that did not fit into their white supremacy world view. He was not English or Protestant but Italian and worse, Catholic. As those of us who had grandparents or great-grandparents who came from southern Europe, know from their stories that they were not considered white people. In fact, it would come as a shock to them that Columbus is now being derided as a symbol of white supremacy. Those who are now insisting images of Columbus be consigned to the waste bin can now partner with the KKK. Strange bedfellows.

Since we have just celebrated Columbus Day, the attacks are becoming more intense. The statue of Columbus on 59th Street in New York is now under 24 hour police guard! I think the City knows that if the statue comes down, there will be a lot of disgruntled Italian-Americans and Catholics to boot. Some lines need to be maintained. After all the statues of Columbus and the Holiday were and are ways the Italian-American and Catholic community celebrate its contributions to this country. Much like the MLK Holiday and the monument in DC (District of Columbia) is a source of pride for the Black community in this country.

One of the latest charges thrown at Columbus was that he was Islamophobic. The reason Columbus started on his journey was to find a quicker route to Asia. His personal goal was to get there before the Ottoman Turks who had taken over the Holy Land and parts of Europe and brought with them their religion. Columbus’ goal was to bring Christianity to Asia even if the Spanish Crown’s motivation was to find a better trade route to the East Indies.

No doubt Columbus was Catholic through and through. He insisted on his ships that fast days be observed, daily prayers recited and even made the sailors chant the Salve Regina every evening. So, Columbus brought with him the Catholic Faith and the Spanish language which today is dominant in much of the Caribbean and Latin America. To this day, in many Latin American countries, Columbus is highly celebrated as the one who gave the world, so to speak, Hispanics. Dia de la Raza, The Day of the Race, as it is called in many places.

But if we judge yesterday’s behavior with today’s information, Columbus and his explorers did things we would not do today. But that’s how it is, if we learn anything and improve our consciousness. In my childhood, everybody smoked cigarettes, everywhere: at home, in the car (with children in it) at the movies, in restaurants and Department Stores. Young people today might call that barbaric, abusive, oppressive even genocidal. Simply put, we know more today than we did then.

I wonder what it would be like, if based on the biographies written about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his “extracurricular activities”, his personal moral failings, we rescinded the National Holiday, took down the monument and renamed all those streets? I would suspect that the Black Community would be outraged and insulted. And I would join them in feeling that way.

So as a Catholic, Italian-American, I find it insulting, short-sighted and historically ignorant to dismiss Columbus as a purveyor of hate. But if you want to be on the side of the KKK, America (named after Amerigo Vespucci) still has freedom of speech.

Be careful when you judge yesterday’s behavior with today’s information.

Love,

Fr. John B.

BACK TO LIST