When Symbols Go Bad

I suspect many have read “The DaVinci Code”. It was OK, I thought.

However, one thing that stood out was when the hero, Dr. Robert Langdon, (played by Tom Hanks in the movie, which I thought was a poor choice, but I digress….) is giving a lecture about symbols and points out that the notorious swastika is about 2,500 years old, and used to mean, ironically, “good”.

Then, the Nazis came.

So, in 1930, this symbol that stood for the sun was turned into the most universally recognized symbol of evil.

Think about that for a minute.

For 2,500 years, you could display a swastika, and no one would bat an eye, and now….well, please don’t.

I use this example as a prelude to my main topic, Christopher Columbus.

Most people know the same few facts: He sailed the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria in 1492 to discover the new world.

And a few misconceptions: He did not land in America, he did not set out to prove the world was round. In 1492, people knew that.

The story of Columbus Day in the U.S. is quite interesting.

President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration in 1892, following a lynching in New Orleans where a mob had murdered 11 Italian immigrants.

Now, Italians and lynching are not words commonly seen in the same sentence.

The fact was, Italians were greatly discriminated against at that time, and the designation of this holiday was to give them some element of recognition and a symbol of their community.

However, as the lesson above on the swastika shows us, the meanings of symbols change.

Starting as far back as the 70’s, but more stridently today, it has been pointed out that Columbus, was, well, to be honest, a brutal asshole.

However, I think it is important to see that the SYMBOL of Christopher Columbus, was not the same as the MAN, Christopher Columbus.

Regardless of that fact, due to the current racial unrest, this symbol is being removed from many major cities, primarily to eliminate a potential source of protests and riots.

We are told this is temporary, but, let’s be honest. It’s not.

It’s permanent.

I struggled for a long time over this issue.

Is it fair for a community to be deprived of what has become their defining symbol?

The answer is, it’s NOT fair, however, it’s also not unreasonable given the current tensions.

Now, before the Knights of Columbus come and lynch me, let me add one more thing.

Not long ago, the Simpson’s, a cartoon show on for 30 years, was taken to task for Apu, the Indian minimart operator.

It was felt to be racially insensitive, even though, 30 years ago, it was considered perfectly acceptable humor to pick on stereotypes.

Now, there is pressure for them to change that character.

OK, great, but let me ask you this:

How many movies and shows have you seen where an Italian is represented by:

A) A pizzeria owner who, “talksa lika dis” or

B) A Mafioso?

In fact, the Simpson’s have both of them on their show, and no one gives a shit.

I think this is what upsets Italian Americans, like me, who’s parents are literally “off the boat”, the most.

A symbol of pride is being removed, with nothing to replace it, and we are still, in many ways disrespected.

My solution is we can do one of two things:

A) Choose a new hero, let’s say Galileo and have Galileo day, or

B) Just stop all these days altogether, which, of course means no more St. Patrick’s day.

I don’t know that option B will be very popular, since eliminating a day to get hammered, especially in the times we live in, will not go over too well.

So, I say, go with A. We have a plethora of Italians who contributed to western civilization, and we should be able to find at least one whom we can vet and ensure their are no skeleton’s in his or her closet.

Maybe, even just pick another saint, to compete with the Irish, like, oh, just one at random, St. Joseph.

In Italy, St. Joseph’s Day (on March 19) is also father’s Day. Pretty neat, huh?

So, that’s the bottom line, Christopher Columbus is gone.

And, if someone tells you otherwise-STAYA SKEPTICAL, Capice?

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