Tuesday, April 23, 2024

From Emmanuel “Manny” Lusardi, of East Cambridge, June 10, 2016: I am writing in response to the city’s decision to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day and asking: How about the Italian-American experience in American history?

LetterColumbus’ name should indeed be removed from a day of recognition. He is a documented criminal, and what he did to the indigenous people of America 500 years ago is nothing short of apocalyptic. With this said, Italian-Americans have celebrated their heritage on this day going back generations, and I wonder what message we teach our children by taking it away. Why didn’t teachers leading a wonderful learning project about civic and social responsibility and process as part of the fight for Indigenous Peoples Day not require their students to learn about the other side of this issue? Why do we force one culture against another? Who is getting punished by removing Christopher Columbus’ name from a day of honor? Not Christopher Columbus – he’s long dead. Only innocent, living Italian-Americans who respect and celebrate their heritage on the second Monday in October are punished by this action.

My own father came to this country 100 years ago this year from Abruzzi, Italy. He often spoke about the harsh treatment of Italian-Americans in this country, including during World War II, when many were interred just like Japanese-Americans – despite being one of the largest ethnic groups to serve in all branches of the U.S. Military during the war. (In 2010, California’s legislature passed a resolution of apology for such actions.) It was even illegal for many Italian-Americans to own a radio or a flashlight during this time, so families hoping to get a little news on the war and maybe how their sons were doing did so at great personal peril.

Imagine if the government threatened criminal charges against an innocent person for owning a computer today? Cambridge residents would be up in arms, and rightfully so, including the Italian-Americans still living in Cambridge who are old enough to have experienced that treatment in the 1940s.

It has never been politically correct to stand up for Italian-Americans in our history, and I don’t believe it ever will be. I was the sole person to testify during the committee meeting on Indigenous Peoples Day to offer an opinion diverging from that of the Native Americans and their allies, and I have been attacked and insulted by some from all sides of this issue, with no apologies. I thank councillor Nadeem Mazen and vice mayor Marc McGovern for inviting me to speak and respecting my views on this important but sensitive issue. Disagreement and discussion on sensitive issues should always be encouraged, respected and treated fairly, as they did.