Guest post by Daniele Bondi
It’s a fact that Italians played a key role in the discovery, exploration, settlement and destiny of the Americas. Cristoforo Colombo (I don’t know why his name was translated into Christopher Columbus: nobody will ever translate American names like Jimmy Carter, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Lemmon,…) was from Genova (Genoa) and was the explorer who discovered the Americas. Another notable Italian explorer was Amerigo Vespucci. He was much luckier than Colombo: his name was never translated and it even became the source of the name “America”.
English is the language spoken in the United States because of the England’s claims and colonies in North America. The strange thing is that these claims and colonies were based on the voyages of another Italian navigator, Giovanni Caboto(unlucky as Colombo because his name was translated into John Cabot!). Therefore, I find it unfair that Italian is not spoken in America (except for in some University courses or in the menu of many restaurants). Don’t you agree with me on this point?
Another very famous (and “lucky”) Italian explorer was Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European to enter New York Bay. The Verrazzano-Narrows bridge (where the NYC Marathon begins) was named in his honor after a long and difficult legal battle (involving even Robert Kennedy) led by The Italian Historical Society of America.
The first Italian to reside in America was Pietro Cesare Alberti, a Venetian seaman who, in 1635, settled in what would eventually become New York City. The Tagliaferro family, originally from Venice too, was one of the first families to settle in Virginia.
Many Italians were invited to settle in America in the XVII and XVIII century because they possessed much needed skills in agriculture and the making of glass, silk and wine. Others came because of their musical abilities as teachers and performers, or just as adventurers, explorers, military engineers, missionaries and political refugees.
These early arrivals settled in many different areas, but constituted a relatively small part of the American population as a whole. However, their contributions were very significant in the founding and settling of the country. As far as Politics is concerned, we have to mention Filippo Mazzei, a promoter of liberty who became a close friend and confidant of Thomas Jefferson. He published a pamphlet containing the phrase: “All men are by nature equally free and independent”, which Jefferson incorporated essentially intact into the Declaration of Independence.
Many were the Italians who explored and mapped America’s territories or established important settlements. Alessandro Malaspina explored much of the west coast of the Americas, from Cape Horn to the Gulf of Alaska. Eusebio Chinoexplored California whereas Giacomo Beltrami the Minnesota region. Enrico de Tonti explored the Great Lakes region and founded the first European settlement in Illinois in 1679, in Arkansas in 1683 and, with the French LaSalle, he co-founded New Orleans, and was governor of the Louisiana territory for about 20 years. His brother founded Detroit.
As for religion, the Catholic Church sent many missionaries to convert the native population to Christianity and to provide for the spiritual needs of the settlers. Particularly active were the Jesuits who founded numerous missions, schools and five colleges in the West, subsequently to become Jesuit universities (San Francisco, Seattle, Gonzaga, Santa Clara and Regis). The Italian Jesuits also laid the foundation for the wine-making industry that would later flourish in California. In the east, the Italian Franciscans founded hospitals, orphanages, schools, and a college that later became St. Bonaventure University.
Italian Americans served in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, both as soldiers and officers. I’d like to mention Colonel Luigi di Cesnola, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War and, incredibly enough, he was able to become the first director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
One of Mozart’s librettists, Lorenzo Da Ponte, immigrated to America and founded, in New York, the first American Opera House. Francesco De Casale published in New York the first Italian American newspaper (1849).
Back to Politics, John Finizzi became the mayor of Augusta, Georgia, in 1837. Anthony Ghio, the mayor of Texarkana, Texas, in 1880. Francis Spinola was the first Italian American to serve in Congress: he was elected in 1887 from New York
A world famous Italian immigrant was Antonio Meucci who arrived in America in 1845 and fought during the last years of his life against Alexander Graham Bell to be credited as the inventor of the telephone. Unfortunately, he died too early: he was declared the true inventor of the telephone only in 2002 (!!!), thanks to a Congress resolution
So, the question is: how different would America be today without the contribution of Italians?
Nobody can answer this question with accuracy. But everybody would agree with the following statement of mine:without that contribution, today’s America would be less rich, less friendly, less open-minded, less creative and less… ?
He has published 4 novels , the most important of which is “Il caso Cartesio” a best-seller in Italy capable of winning 6 Literary Prizes.