First it’s important to recognize there’s a lot of current history portraying Christopher Columbus as a slave catching greedy mongrel in the dark days of the middle ages. True history proves this time was actually one of great innovation and discovery, scientifically, artistically, and geographically.

Columbus was neither a monster, nor a saint, says Latin American history expert Christopher Minster. He was simply a skilled sailor and navigator and was an opportunist and a product of his time.

Inspired by another Italian pioneer, Marco Polo, Genoan Cristoforo Columbo set sail to find a shorter route to Asia. Likely loaded down with salami and focaccia, he was not on a mission to prove the world was round, nor to discover a new land he could pillage and plunder for the King. He simply did what few before him had the guts to attempt: to brave the unknown in search of something better.

Seven years after Columbus’ first voyage and while Columbus was still alive, Amerigo Vespucci accompanied an expedition to Trinidad and to “a New World.” On his return to Europe Vespucci wrote letters with glowing descriptions of the newly discovered lands.

Years later, in 1507, German geographers read Amerigo’s rave reviews, and determined to put in print that the New World should be named America.

Whether accidentally or purposefully discovered, the New World that Columbus put on the maps, and Vespucci was enamored by became a haven for generations of immigrants. Because the Vallorani’s ARE Italian, we choose today to celebrate the achievements of Italy’s sons and daughters who set out into the unknown and landed on the shores of this country.

Without Italian Americans, we would not enjoy Jacuzzis, Frank Sinatra, or the Godfather. We would have missed out on gold Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, the golden voice of Frankie Valli, the Dodgers’ longtime coach Tommy Lasorda, and the unmistakable rasp of Bon Jovi.

Today is a day to celebrate the strength it takes to step into the unknown and carve out a new world for future generations, something that we do every day whether we get on a boat and sail to a new world or simply live each day to the best of our abilities. So mangiare, bere , ed essere felici!