Ever since Columbus Day hit the calendar, I’ve had the song about the explorer stuck in my head.
You didn’t know there was a tune about Columbus? Well, unless you’re of a certain age and Italian, you probably never heard of it.
Today, it would be considered horribly offensive. Even though it’s spot on for any paisan with a sense of humor.
But we must go back to the days when I was in grade school, and taught, like every other kid of that era, that Columbus discovered America. Of course, there was one kid in my class who immediately raised his hand and asked the teacher, “But the Indians were already here, right?”
Right, obviously the famous explorer discovered the new world from the viewpoint of Europeans.
Anyway, Columbus was a big deal in our neighborhood. An Italian discovered America! He was one of us! It’s a holiday! There’s a parade!
And sure enough, there was a song. But if you think it was something traditional, well, let’s just say this was before stereotypes offended everyone.
Back in the day there was a singer named Lou Monte, who wrote and sang funny songs for and about Italians. And one of his most popular was titled “Please, Mister Columbus” which poked fun at those who spoke what was known as broken English.
In those days they were known as “off-the-boat” Italians, talking like my grandfather who emigrated from Sicily through Ellis Island. Pop was a shoemaker, and even though he spoke little English and I knew little Italian, I pretty much understood what he meant. “You no-a go school, you-a be stunad,” meaning, “If you don’t go to college, you’re an idiot.” Between stuff like that and his hand signals, I got what he was saying.
So, Lou Monte put out a bunch of songs, and the one about Columbus is rich in broken English. Basically, it’s about his crew wanting to go home:
In fourteen hundred ninety-two three ships sailed out to sea,
The Nina and the Pinta and the Santa Marie,
And as they sailed the stormy seas on that historic day,
From way up in the crow’s nest you could hear Luigi say
Please-a Mr. Columbus turn-a the ship around,
Take me back I want to feel my two feet on the ground,
Why you tell-a Isabella that the world is round?
Please-a Mr. Columbus turn-a the ship around…
And as the song goes on, Columbus’ crew discovers all the Indians are Italians.
The song is a hoot, and I play it every year. Monte actually had an entire album of stuff like this.
But since political correctness has sucked the fun out of everything, things like this are considered offensive.
I’m sorry, but a lot of stereotypes about Italians are true. We’re loud. We talk with our hands. We’re obsessed with food. The guys love Irish girls (I married one. We can’t resist the freckles.) Most Italian men have mother issues, which led to this old joke:
What’s the difference between a pit bull and an Italian mother?
Eventually a pit bull will let go.
And there were plenty of people in my old neighborhood who sounded exactly like my grandfather. Which is why I loved Lou Monte’s song.
Today, a few stereotypes seem to be okay, like the image that’s on half the pizza boxes in this country of the fat little Italian chef with a moustache pinching his cheek.
I find it sad that we can’t laugh at the things that make us different. I loved the ethnic neighborhoods in my old hometown and the interesting traditions that each group kept through the years.
America has always been known as a melting pot. But sometimes if you turn the heat up on a pot too much, everything dissolves. Including the traditions and the ability to laugh at ourselves.
Randy Tatano is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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