Nation of Immigrators
For me, Columbus Day is personal. I was born on October 12 -- the original day of remembering the Italian explorer's first touchdown on Guanahani, as the island of San Salvador was known in 1492 -- that is, until three-day weekends became more important than historical accuracy and Columbia became a misspelling of a South American country known for fine coffee more than the name by which to distinguish America and the New World from Old Europe.
The President's Columbus-Day commemoration of the leader of farm workers strikes me as doubly ironic (and also quite politic) because early Italian immigrants, like my grandparents, came as impoverished and landless farmers to this new world of promised "opportunity" and were as reviled and unappreciated as Hispanic field workers in Chavez's time and other unauthorized immigrants still are today.
As social and cultural historian Yoni Appelbaum reminds us in The Atlantic, ("How Columbus Day Fell Victim to Its Own Success"), the Italian explorer who outsourced his services to Spain has become an enduring symbol of the genocide of indigenous people, even though Italian immigrants were vilified and some were murdered when they arrived on America's shores in the early Twentieth Century:
Many Americans believed Italians to be racially inferior, their difference made visible by their "swarthy" or "brown" skins. They were often portrayed as primitive, violent, and unassimilable, and their Catholicism brought them in for further abuse. After an 1891 lynching of Italians in New Orleans, a New York Times editorial proclaimed Sicilians "a pest without mitigation," adding, for good measure, that "our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they."
By insisting that "Readers Won’t Benefit if Times Bans the Term ‘Illegal Immigrant’," The New York Times Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, mistakenly aligns herself with Ann Coulter ("Immigrant rights are not civil rights . . . Civil rights are only for Blacks") and continues the sad tradition of The Grey Lady in belatedly dropping venomous pejoratives in common use as ad hominem attacks on discrete and defenseless groups within society. Sullivan also facilitates the effort of anti-immigrant NumbersUSA to pit African Americans against their immigrant brothers and sisters in a recent TV commercial. Let's be clear, the term "illegal immigrant" is grammatically and legally incorrect. It is more than just a term. The media needs to drop the 'i' word. It is simply not the right description. As much as I respect Times' immigration reporter, Julia Preston, and its immigration editorialist, Lawrence Downes, for their fine work, 'illegal immigrant' is not interchangeable with 'undocumented immigrant'.
Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. ''Patriotism'' is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by ''patriotism'' I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one's own nation, which is the concern with the nation's spiritual as much as with its material welfare /never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one's country which is not part of one's love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.