Italian Explorers Day

Feb 17, 2017 237

BY: Franc Palaia

For this article I would like to address the controversial topic for Italian-Americans, “Columbus Day” vs. “Indigenous Day”. Over the last several years there has been a growing complaint by Native Americans that Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was a really bad guy, and that the nation should not celebrate his arrival in the new world.

Also, the claim is that he didn’t discover America, he enslaved natives and killed and tortured thousands of natives by bringing deadly diseases from Europe. Well, some if this is true but the blame should not be borne by Columbus alone. Columbus was one of dozens of European explorers and navigators from several countries who brought many diseases to North and South America and in turn killed many thousands of natives from Canada all the way to Argentina. The diseases included influenza, small pox, dysentery, fleas, lice, rats and TB to name a few.

Not a nice list to say the least and I didn’t mention murder and suicide which was unknown until the Europeans arrived. This was an unfortunate ancillary accident, it all came with the territory when exploring the earth for adventure and commerce. However, Columbus or Cristoforo Colombo, did bring some good to the new world and they included horses, wheat, coffee from Africa and metal tools. Columbus in turn brought many things back to Europe and they include tomatoes, potatoes, corn, cotton, parrots and gold. Columbus made four voyages and had trouble finding a sponsor. He tried to convince the Portuguese, the Genovese, the Venetians, and finally Spain’s King Ferdinand, who wanted to expand his realm gave Columbus the support for four voyages. Columbus knew the world was round from Arab maps, so that was not the impetus for the exploration, it was to find a short cut to India and Asia. He first landed in the Bahamas, then Cuba, Hispanola and finally Venezuela but ironically, never actually touched the North American mainland.

I want to mention three other Italian explorers who were the first Europeans to land in North and South America and thus changed history forever. Giovanni Caboto, (John Cabot, 1450-1499) a Venetian explorer sailed for England under Henry VII in 1497. He gathered funds from the Italian community in London to launch a voyage to find China but instead landed on what is now the north east coast of Canada and proclaimed it in his native Italian, Nova Scotia, or New Scotland. Caboto was the second European to reach North America, about 500 years after the Icelandic/Norwegian Leif Erickson. Caboto was the first Italian to claim an early connection to North America.

The third Italian explorer who made a mark on history was Giovanni da Verrazzano. Born in 1485 in Chianti, Italy, Verrazzano sailed for King Francis I of France in 1504. He charted the American coast from the Carolinas to Newfoundland,. He first landed in North Carolina’s Cape Fear again seeking a trade route to China. He spent time exploring the New York Harbor and is rewarded with a bridge and narrows named after him. He made three voyages across the Atlantic and died tragically in 1528 when sailing with his brother Girolamo. They landed in Guadeloupe, where natives captured him and ate him while his brother watched helplessly from his ship off shore. The fourth and final important Italian explorer was Amerigo Vespucci who was also a financier, navigator and cartographer made great advances in the new world. He extensively explored the northern and eastern areas of South America. He was born in Florence in 1554 and died of malaria in Spain in 1512. He met Columbus in Seville, Spain in 1496 after Columbus’s first trip to the Caribbean. Vespucci discovered Venezuela a year before Columbus, discovered Guyana on his second trip in 1499 and discovered the Amazon river under the Portuguese flag during his fourth Atlantic voyage. A German cartographer was so impressed with Vespucci that he named the new continent “America”, the feminine version of Amerigo, in his honor.

In conclusion, as you can see, these four courageous Italians made great strides in world history by exploring the entire length of two continents from the northern reaches of North America to the bottom of South America. Their discoveries are dated long before other rival navigators such as Champlain, Cartier, De Gama, De Soto, Magellan, Pizarro, Henry Hudson and others.

I propose a solution to the controversy between Native Americans and loyal Columbus Day Italians by honoring these four great Italians with a holiday called, Italian Explorers Day. In exchange, create a national holiday called Native Americans Day or Indigenous Day whichever they prefer. Both entities deserve their own special and unique day of celebration and should not be mixed or overlooked. Lets keep Italian Explorers Day on the second day in October and Native American Day can be set to whatever day of the year they desire.

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