It’s a day of shame. There’s an obvious reason for this, having to do with the capacity of a nation-state to enshrine as one of its “holidays” the commemoration of a figure who represents the colonizing project. As Nas once put it: “The Indians helped the Pilgrims / and in return the Pilgrims killed them / I call your holiday hellday.” Columbus Day, like Thanksgiving, is adequately understood as a hellday.
Yet there is another, less considered reason for feeling shameful on Columbus Day, and this has to do with the “construction” of its commemoration. For, nowadays at least, the celebration of Columbus Day is bound up with Italian-Americans’ need for a day that would recognize their own particular contribution to “American culture.” Columbus Day is meant to be a day of pride for Italian-Americans—and this, I am trying to say, bears its own peculiar shame. Columbus, it will be noted, was Italian—but what is an Italian? And what does Columbus have to do with Italian-Americans? Read the rest of this entry »