Columbus Day culture wars …and the fascist connection

In what has become a yearly ritual, activists from the American Indian Movement (AIM) staged angry protests at the Columbus Day march in Denver, while the city’s Italian-Americans intransigently refused to “get it.” This from an AP account online at Indian Country Today:

As drums and chants echoed in the background, demonstrators briefly staged a mock death scene in the street Oct. 8 before a Columbus Day parade passed by.

About 15 people laid down in an intersection before the parade was in view. Other protesters covered them with blankets and carried them away just before police moved in to make arrests.

Police were out in force for the Denver parade, which has a troubled history of arrests and confrontations between supporters and detractors of Christopher Columbus. Protesters have called him a slave trader who touched off centuries of genocide and oppression against Native people. Parade supporters say he was a brave explorer who opened a new world. Colorado is credited with being the first to make Columbus Day a state holiday.

Police said there was no violence and no one was arrested Oct. 8. About 240 people were arrested last year for disrupting the parade.

Some protesters spilled red liquid to signify blood. Others held banners reading “Genocide,” “Columbush” and “1492.”

Glenn Morris, a member of AIM’s Colorado chapter, said…the demonstrators who laid on the street represented Indians exterminated since the arrival of Columbus, the people carrying them away on stretchers were the survivors honoring their ancestors and the police cleaning up the red liquid were authorities erasing history.

The protesters, estimated by police at 200, appeared to far outnumber parade supporters, many of whom waved Italian flags.

Ann-Erika White Bird, 32, of Boulder said Columbus helped touch off genocide against indigenous people and that the United States is ignoring international treaties and conventions by honoring him. She said her home state of South Dakota celebrates Native American Day on the traditional Columbus Day, while Colorado refuses to change.

“What message does that send?” White Bird asked.

In most of Latin America, this cultural transition has already been made, and “Columbus Day” is known as Dia de La Raza. Attempts by members of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan (MEChA) to hold a Dia de La Raza celebration at San Diego State University were cut short when university police cut the sound system off, leading to a renewed free speech controversy on the campus. (Daily Aztec, Oct. 20)

But we really could have used some protesters here in New York City, where Italian neo-fascist politican Mirko Tremaglia was invited to march in an honored place at the head of the parade. (The grand marshall was Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who is only slightly better.) Tremaglia is Minister for Italians Abroad in Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative coalition government, and is a member of the (just barely) “post-fascist” Alleanza Nationale. In his youth he fought as a volunteer for the Salo Republic, the mini-state established by Benito Mussolini in northern Italy—at Hitler’s behest—after the dictator was deposed in Rome in 1943. The Salo Republic deported hundreds of Italian Jews, gays and Roma (gypsies) to the Nazi death camps. Tremaglia is proud of his fascist past and makes no apology for it.

Last October, when the European Union’s Commission in Brussels rejected Berlusconi’s nominee for justice commissioner, Rocco Buttiglione, because of his reactionary views on gays and women, Mirko Tremaglia lamented, “Poor Europe, the faggots are in the majority.” The Italian word Tremaglia used, culattoni, is the most derogatory and vulgar Italian insult for gays, and he subsequently defended his choice of this epithet, telling the daily La Republicca: “I called them faggots and I repeat it. I’m a Bergamo man and I don’t go around there saying ‘gays.’ I say ‘faggots’ because that’s what we call them where I’m from. There’s no point in philosophizing about it, I’m against [homosexuality].”

Veteran political journalist Doug Ireland, writing on the affair for his Direland blog, charges: “In honoring the fascist Tremaglia, the Columbus Citizens Foundation pisses on the memory of great Italian-American anti-fascists…” We agree, and await the day when Carlo Tresca, a martyr of the anti-fascist struggle in New York City’s Italian community, will upstage the conquistador Columbus as the symbol of Italian-American pride.

See our last post on Italy’s fascist resurgence, and its international ambitions.