A few days ago on social media, I became agitated with a discussion about Columbus Day and the attention he receives in the U.S.. I angrily argued about the topic on Facebook, then realized my mini paragraph didn’t hit all my points. I still had more to say and my social media ramblings weren’t cutting it.
The figurative light bulb went off above my head, reminding me of my little blog over here on the wide expanse of Internet. Each month I pay a domain fee to have this creative outlet, so I might as well put it to use!
Here in the U.S., we observe a a national holiday each October to celebrate Christopher Columbus. It’s a guaranteed pass-day for any person working in corporate America or most school systems. As a young student, I never gave it much thought. It usually meant extra time for relaxing and catching up on sleep/homework. In middle and high school we really didn’t talk much about Columbus day, but in elementary school I clearly remember coloring drawings of Columbus standing on a ship, gazing onward at the land ahead he would later conquer. The “In 1492 Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue” poem was pretty much ingrained in the mind of every elementary school kid.
Throughout our history lessons, Columbus remained the figurehead for terms like discovery, new world, and colonization. This is not to say that he did all of this alone, but U.S. textbooks painted him as the symbol for this chunk of history. The creation of a National Holiday in his honor only further the notion.
In my education, little to no attention was given to the people who were colonized. We discussed in great deal the voyagers and the lands they overtook, but barely referenced the cultures or people conquered. Some blanket statements were tossed around like, “the Native people headed west with the spread of colonization” or “smallpox took the lives of many”. That was the extent of the conversation.
As I’ve aged and moved on from coloring those ship drawings, I began to reflect on this “holiday”. This seems to be the path of thought: Columbus represents the discovery of the new world, something without which all of us would not be living here, so let’s recognize him!!! That’s the only line of thinking I can somewhat comprehend, but when you look to history, celebrating this man and his actions make little sense.
The first issue is that Columbus never even set foot in North America. He explored parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, which he labeled the Indies thinking he had arrived to Asia. He was never in North America. I would bet my left foot that if you polled many U.S. citizens they would wrongly say Columbus discovered the land in which we currently reside. The national holiday helps to maintain that confusion.
The second big issue is what he actually did besides “discover” land. Historians all agree that Columbus was a brutal leader of the lands he conquered. He was known to be ruthless, racist, and enslaved indigenous people. The history is inarguable, but yet here we are taking off work for this man.
These thoughts always stayed in the back of my mind, but were reinforced when living in Chile. A nation comprised of many indigenous cultures, most Chileans were confused as to why we have this holiday and glorify the symbolic leader of colonialism, a term that they mostly associate with death and destruction.
The post below was shared many times this past Monday and was the center point for the argument I entered on social media:
My main problem is the pedestal we offer Columbus and, by way of him, colonization. We hold a national holiday in honor of the “discovered land” and only discuss the benefits white people reaped. We gloss over the injustices and hardships those colonized face, and continue to face.
Columbus is not the only culprit of colonization in the Americas and certainly not the only perpetrator of this tale. My argument is not to erase Columbus from the history books, but rather to teach the accurate version of his story. People should know the facts and balance the conversation with discussions on the conquered people that were impacted.
The pro-Columbus person claimed that Americans are hypocritical to criticize this explorer when the places we spaces we occupy today are more or less a by-product of colonialism. We are not denying that fact, but we’re concerned about praising a historical figure that committed injustices without hearing the other side of the story.
It all comes down to glorification. Anti-Columbus Day folks simply question the glorification of historical figures that undoubtedly left a nasty mark on the world’s history. We question society’s ability to only share the side of the story that benefited a certain group of people, while forgetting those oppressed.