“God damn Christopher Columbus” were the last words my wife’s grandmother spoke before dying at age 88 twenty years ago last week.
Nobody has ever conclusively deciphered the meaning of that memorable sentence. Her descendants couldn’t recall her previously expressing anti-Columbianism.
My guess, however, is that this was one of those random memories that bounce around in the minds of the very old. Perhaps my wife’s grandmother, who was born in Chicago in 1908, was echoing her Italian-born mother’s private view of immigrating to America: If only Christopher Columbus had minded his own business and not discovered America, she never would have left her beloved Italy.
Ellis Island-era immigrants to big cities like Chicago didn’t face the challenges of settling the American frontier. But the psychological costs still must have been high.
Granted, Chicago was much richer than Italy. But to newcomers it must have lacked in the peculiar sweetness of Italian life. In Chicago, the food was abundant but crude; there was a shortage of scenery, a harsh climate, a baffling new language to attempt to learn as an adult, and the strange, cold customs that the self-confident natives insisted the newcomers adopt.