Dear Fr. Jenkins,
We are writing to express our deepest and most sincere concerns regarding the recent decision to cover up the Luigi Gregori murals in the Main Building. We firmly believe that the murals possess a cultural and historical value that transcends the concerns articulated in your recent e-mail detailing the decision to cover them up.
In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison urged Americans to declare Columbus Day a national holiday. President Harrison’s advocacy was not just made to commemorate the historic discovery of the New World; it was made for the unity of the American People. His statement arguing for the establishment of the holiday came a mere two years after the Battle of Wounded Knee and one year after the largest lynching in American History, when 11 Italian-Americans were lynched in New Orleans. The declaration was made to bring Native Americans and Italian-Americans together and to commemorate a shared history of racial animus faced by the two communities. Like President Harrison’s intent behind the recognition of Christopher Columbus, we ask you, President Jenkins, to use these murals as an opportunity to unify members of the Notre Dame community and facilitate an open and healthy discourse. Your current decision created a division amongst students, faculty and alumni. Your message declared that we must acknowledge the darker side of Columbus’ story, but is it not possible to acknowledge and understand both sides of the broader dialogue?
As concerned Italian-American members of the Notre Dame community, we want to preserve the cultural legacy of Columbus on campus. Growing up, Christopher Columbus was always a great point of pride in the Italian-American community. Every Columbus Day, we celebrated with our families, reflected on what it meant to be Italian-American and honored those who made the immense sacrifice in leaving their homeland of Italy and coming to the United States in hopes of a better and brighter future for their children and grandchildren. In addition, the observance of Columbus discovering the New World has, throughout history, been a shining contribution that Italian-Americans could point to as justification for their belonging in the United States long before they were truly and widely accepted as “real” Americans. Members of our families and many other Italian-Americans have long fought to be accepted as “real” Americans — the same fight that Catholics in general have had to partake in. Italian-Americans have assimilated into society, but that does not erase that struggle of the Italian people in this country’s history. Italian-Americans have been lynched, placed in internment camps during World War II, targeted by the Klu Klux Klan and demeaned by presidents as recently as Bill Clinton. In addition, this decision is hypocritical on multiple levels. For example, the University is ashamed of Columbus, yet boasts its own chapter of the Knights of Columbus on campus.
Columbus is an enduring Italian and Catholic icon who was not perfect by any means, but to relegate him to an historical footnote or, even worse, erase him from the annals of history, would redefine what it means to be an Italian-American in a way that would leave our culture unrecognizable. We respectfully ask you to reconsider your decision to cover the murals and find a compromise that will “inspire, uplift and educate” every member of Our Lady’s University. Furthermore, we would be very happy to meet with you should you have the time in order to discuss potential alternatives to covering up the murals.
In Notre Dame,
Nicholas Dante Loyacona
Richard Vittorio Bochicchio