Eastie’s historian Michael Laurano: “Leave Columbus Day alone…..”


By the late Michael Laurano

Reprinted by permission

File photograph: EastBoston.com.

In East Boston as in many communities with a heavy Italian immigrant population in the American northeast until fairly recently we rarely called it “Pasta”. Although we knew all right that it was generically “pasta” “Macaroni” instead was the usual term we as children most often employed for our favorite foodstuff no matter the cut, shape or size. And of course “tomato sauce” although it was in fact that was usually “gravy” to us.

Dom Petrola, an old friend from East Boston told me that during the Great Depression the Government would distribute sacks of flour and bottles of milk. His mother would make ricotta from the milk and dough for ravioli from the flour. The ambrosia smelling gravy would flow from tomatoes picked in the backyard garden. Drop into the simmering pot a few meatballs and maybe some “braciola” and sausages and as my grandmother Annie Laurano used to say as she placed such a meal on the table:” Not even the rich eat this way!”

She had a point there that many Americans of all origins would now agree with. Though it is a historical truth that in the early years of Italian immigration to America the invariably hard working and provident immigrants themselves usually always tolerant to others were mocked and reviled for among other things the culinary habits and tastes they brought with them.

My, My – How ideas and tastes have changed. The contributions our Italian immigrant fore-bearers made to American life, not least of all to our tables, have not only endured they have triumphed, That being said….if for no other reason…although arguably there are many other justifications, leave Columbus Day alone.

It is a celebration not only of the 15th &16th century explorer Cristoforo Colombo, no doubt a fallible human being with the blind failings of his time, a condition we all are capable of being in and sharing, but rather of a much larger heritage of many contributions made to the rich and diverse fabric of America by many unheralded individuals of Italian origins who although not famous are not to be now or ever placed in history’s trash heap.

Celebrate other heritages too if you will but do not commit the grave injustice of denying and disrespecting the undeniable and enviable truths of ours.

The list of those truths is long but includes: unsurpassed devotion to family values, the foundation always of good governance even as those terms come to be contemporaneously further understood and defined; tolerance and respect for “the other” even when subject to prejudice themselves arising out of ignorance or malice; steadfast adherance to the ancient Judeo-Christian religious principles of our mothers and fathers upon which this Nation was founded.

This despite and amidst the confusion of widespread de-facto apostasy from those principles arising not unoften from organized religions institutional chaos and a consequent threatening societal anarchy; unwavering pride in, love of and service to America, in war and in peace…in times bitter and sweet.

“It is a remarkable but I think demonstrable phenomenon that our attachment to and affection for our particular heritage does not drive our society apart, but helps to bind it together.”……. the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the first Italian- American appointed to the United States Supreme Court