Perhaps the greatest slur on Italian culture has been the attacks on Christopher Columbus, an Italian from Genoa who sailed under the flag of Spain. Revisionist historians, with little or no proof, have characterized Columbus as a murderer and rapist, interested only in acquiring wealth for his European masters. The great courage, intelligence and bravery displayed by Columbus is written off by people with agendas who do their best to minimize the contributions of not just Italians, but all Western Europeans. They fabricate out of whole cloth, great (but imaginary) accomplishments for their own ethnic constituencies, while denigrating the real achievements of others. This is sad and pathetic; these half truths and outright lies must not be accepted unchallenged as history.
Italy spawned one of the most advanced and admired civilizations in the history of man. The modern renaissance in art, writing, architecture, philosophy and science was begun in Italy and its greatness is acknowledged to this day. Italian immigrants contributed mightily to the building of America, and their descendants continue to earn recognition in every field of endeavor. It was not always so; during the great wave of Italian immigration (1880-1925) many children of Italian parents were told by their school teachers that they were little more than savages who had to be subdued and acculturated to all things American if they were to be worth anything as citizens. Italian culture was denigrated, the Italian language was abandoned, and children were told to become Americans at all costs.
It is supremely ironic that today in America, all things Italian (clothes, jewelry, films, cars and cuisine) are considered to be the height of cool. Not that people still aren't taking shots at us with TV shows and movies that often portray Italians as gangsters, but Italians have largely outgrown this false characterization and emerged as the true (sometimes flawed) individualists they are. Talented, intelligent, family-oriented, temperamental, emotional, fun-loving and passionate, Italians have assimilated with a vengeance here in the United States. Grandma's black dresses and Grandpa's DiNobili cigars were put away while we all donned the mantle of "Americans." The time has come for our generation to reclaim its Italian roots.
Talk to your children and grandchildren about the great men and women Italy gave to the world. Show them the work of DaVinci, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Brunelleschi; read to them from Dante, Pirandello, and Carlo Collodi, play for them the music of Caruso, Mario Lanza, Pavorotti, Renata Tebaldi and even Frank Sinatra; talk to them about the Italian explorers who defied existing beliefs and stretched the boundaries of the world, and most of all, take them to Ellis Island to see and hear about the sacrifices made by their great grandparents so that they could enjoy life in America.
As Italians, we should not let our culture be defined by revisionist historians who tear us down with lies. We should speak up when ignorant people make statements about Italians that are biased and misinformed. In the last 100 years we have put great emphasis on the American part of Italian-American; its time to be proud the Italian in us.
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