To the editor:
The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) Board of Directors are united in their protest of the vandalization of the Christopher Columbus statues in Boston, Mass.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Richmond, Va.; and many other cities. There have also been petitions to remove the Christopher Columbus statues in New York City and Syracuse, N.Y.
NIAF firmly believes in equality and justice for every human being, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, or nation of origin. As written in NIAF’s statement on June 5, the senseless death of George Floyd underscores the bitter truth that disenfranchised and marginalized groups are still the victims of racism and injustice. NIAF supports the American right to peacefully protest and supports people coming together in peace to seek justice and reform, and to transform pain into progress. We condemn intolerance, hate, discrimination and violence, as they are divisive to our democracy.
And, therefore, we believe that to vandalize and remove the Columbus statues is culturally insensitive and divisive. These statues were paid for through the donations from Italian immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. Although these new Americans had little in the way of monetary resources and were part of a marginalized community, discriminated against and exploited for their labor, they wanted to give what they could to have a statue of Columbus, representing their hope that one day they could be part of American life, achieve at higher levels and contribute to society.
This distinction was recognized by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on June 11, 2020, when he said: “I understand the dialogue that’s been going on for a number of years, [but] the Christopher Columbus statue in some way represents the Italian American legacy in this country and the Italian American contribution in this country … And for that reason, I support it.”
The Italian American community, composed of more than 20 million citizens, represents the fifth largest ethnic group in the United States, an ethnic group that suffered great discrimination even as it worked to be respected.
We are making this a public statement that expresses our support of peaceful protest for all people and our condemnation of the destruction of Italian American history.
The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization dedicated to preserving, promoting and protecting the Italian American heritage and culture. To learn more about the Foundation and become a member, please visit www.niaf.org.