Happy Columbus Day!


Let me be the first to wish you and yours a happy Columbus Day.

This year’s holiday is doubly special because it’s not just the second Monday in October. Monday also happens to be Oct. 12, which is traditional Columbus Day. It will be exactly 528 years ago to the day that the great Italian explorer landed in the New World.

Columbus may have thought he had landed in India, but his voyage resulted in something much greater: the awareness of whole new hemisphere. Columbus made the world bigger.

Since the man credited with discovering America was Italian, Columbus Day has deep meaning for Italian-Americans. Back when history classes included the positive side of the American story, it was easy for Italian-Americans to feel a measure of pride in their common ancestry with the brave man who set it all in motion.

In my case, that measure was one-half. My paternal ancestors came from Reisi, a town in western Sicily that today boasts a population of 11,678.

My grandfather, Elia Sardella, was born there in 1887. On June 20, 1908, the 21-year-old traveled 100 miles to the port city of Palermo, boarded the San Giorgio and left home for good.

After a considerably shorter voyage than Columbus, my grandfather’s ship arrived in New York City 12 days later, on July 2, 1908 – just in time to celebrate Independence Day in his new country.

There’s a romantic family story about my grandparents getting married by the ship’s captain on the voyage across the Atlantic. But genealogy records say the marriage actually took place three years later, in Lawrence, Mass. On June 8, 1911, Elia Sardella, 24, married Luisa Padellaro, 18, who had arrived in Boston from Sicily just two days earlier on June 6, aboard the SS Romanic. The couple ended up raising six children, two girls and four boys, at 38 Richardson St. in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

My father was the eldest male child and was therefore named after his paternal grandfather, Stefano, as is the Italian tradition. That tradition also explains why at one point there were at least five Steve Sardellas living in Wakefield.

Growing up in Wakefield, I can’t tell you how many times I was party to some version the following exchange.

“So, who’s your father?”

“Steve Sardella.”

“Can you be more specific?”

Stefano Sardella was born in 1855. He held out until 1921 before he finally boarded the SS Providence and sailed to America when he was almost 66 years old. He died in Wakefield in 1933 at age 78. He’s buried in Forest Glade Cemetery.

My grandfather died in 1964. I remember him as a stern man. He didn’t speak a lot of English and he liked to use a certain Italian profanity that my four-year-old brain heard as “Meat cigar!”** Those who know enough Italian can figure out the word. My aunts and uncles were greatly amused to hear a toddler padding around the house parroting the butchered Italian swearword, “Meat cigar! Meat cigar!”

That generation of Italian immigrants didn’t have as harrowing a journey as Columbus did, but it made them proud to know that one of their own discovered America. It conferred a certain status and legitimacy. The story of Columbus was a big part of their identity and pride as Italian-Americans.

But now, those who want to convict the 15th century explorer in the 21st century Court of Woke Justice would love to negate all that.

They claim they want to eliminate the holiday because Columbus was a bad man who set in motion genocide and a litany of human rights abuses. But that’s not the real reason. If it were truly about addressing injustice, we might occasionally hear about the human rights abuses going on right now in China, which incidentally also just unleashed a plague upon the world.

The real goal is to eliminate a day of American pride and replace it with one that is inherently critical. Everybody knows the history. This isn’t about redressing a centuries-old wrong. It’s about rubbing our noses in it.

And there’s another problem. Columbus was a male. The Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria may have had female names, but they carried boatloads of testosterone under their sails.

Through his deeds, Columbus embodied courage, valor and bold leadership – those once-admired qualities traditionally associated with masculinity. But today, masculinity is regarded as “toxic.” We’ve pathologized risk-taking in favor of safe spaces and traded masculinity for masks.

Throw in a dash of Christianity – Columbus died believing he had brought salvation to the Indians – and you can see why the Wokes want to cancel him. It has nothing to do with honoring indigenous peoples.

It has everything to do with tearing down a brave, European male icon who opened the door to America.

As my grandfather would say, “Meat cigar!”

** As a result of publishing this column, a long-standing mystery surrounding of my grandfather’s expression that I heard as “Meat cigar!” has been solved. Readers have informed me that he was likely saying, “mizzica!” which is a uniquely Sicilian expression equivalent to “Wow!” in English. According to online sources, it may also be a cleaned up substitute for the more vulgar Italian word, “minchia.” (Both words are pronounced with a strong accent on the first syllable.) So my grandfather wasn’t uttering a vulgarity after all. Still, the relatives got a big kick out of hearing the four-year-old me repeating the Sicilian expression.

[This column originally appeared in the October 8, 2020 Wakefield Daily Item.]

5 Responses to “Happy Columbus Day!”

  1. 1 Marsha Carter

    Thanks Mark — perfectly put! No more need to be said — Everyone has some element in their family history that eventually gets attacked by the extreme lefts and rights.

  2. 2 Proud American who's not afraid of people who don't look like her

    Seriously dude? You view Columbus as some sort of Eurocentric savior? He brought conquest, death, and pestilence to the Americas. And you’re nothing more than an aggrieved, old, white guy. Go vote for your führer. Come January, we’ll be rid of him and you can crawl back under the resentful rock that you call home.

    • 3 Mark Sardella

      Thank you for confirming that ageism never gets old. You see yourself as enlightened, but judge me based on age and skin color? Get some self-awareness, sweetie.

  3. 4 Matthew Krevat

    Yeah, don’t look too hard at that bit about the genocide and human rights abuses. It’s really nothing we should concern ourselves with. After all, the real problem is people who point out that because of these things maybe this man should not be placed on a pedestal after all. But these people are just far left extremists who obviously have an alternative motive. Shame on them and their need for “safe spaces” and silly masks!

  4. 5 Mark Sardella

    Then again, I might not.

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