On Rethinking Columbus Day
Today is the second Monday of October, which means that here in the United States, we are observing the holiday known as Columbus Day. The holiday is meant to be a celebration of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas in 1492. It became a federal holiday in the US in 1937, following lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, though it had been celebrated for hundreds of years already.
Columbus Day is celebrated in other parts of the world, as well. It is known as Discovery Day in the Bahamas and Día de la Resistencia Indígena in Venezuela, and is also observed in Argentina, Uruguay, and other countries throughout Latin America. Spain also celebrates the holiday.
In addition to being a day to celebrate the supposed discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, it is a day to celebrate Italian-American heritage. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt confirmed it as a federal holiday following (and during) a time when Italian-Americans were marginalized and discriminated against in the United States. They came to the US for work, and found themselves becoming victims of oppression and violence. But if Columbus, an Italian man, discovered the land they were being oppressed on, then no one could deny them their rights to live and work here.
As time went on, it was adopted by the US population as a general “America Day.” It has also become more commercialized, like many other holidays in the US, and now seems to be more of a celebration of cheap Kenmore appliances than the discovery of the Americas. Perhaps that’s fitting, though, since Columbus didn’t actually discover anything. What he did was run into land that was already inhabited by at least ten million people. But schools in the US don’t tell us that, and they certainly don’t tell us what happened next.
He enslaved, tortured, infected, and murdered the indigenous people. Those who didn’t die from the many diseases he introduced to them, he sent as slaves back to Europe. And those that couldn’t fit on his ships, he enslaved on the islands in the newly-built colonies. This is what we honor when we celebrate Columbus Day. Genocide. He committed genocide. He’s no different than any of the genocidal dictators we do hear about in school, so what separates him from the rest of the pack?
In 2010, Eric Kasum wrote this article for the Huffington Post. In it, he wrote of Columbus’ true history (warning: it is quite graphic):
He forced these peaceful natives work in his gold mines until they died of exhaustion. If an “Indian” worker did not deliver his full quota of gold dust by Columbus’ deadline, soldiers would cut off the man’s hands and tie them around his neck to send a message. Slavery was so intolerable for these sweet, gentle island people that at one point, 100 of them committed mass suicide. Catholic law forbade the enslavement of Christians, but Columbus solved this problem. He simply refused to baptize the native people of Hispaniola.
On his second trip to the New World, Columbus brought cannons and attack dogs. If a native resisted slavery, he would cut off a nose or an ear. If slaves tried to escape, Columbus had them burned alive. Other times, he sent attack dogs to hunt them down, and the dogs would tear off the arms and legs of the screaming natives while they were still alive. If the Spaniards ran short of meat to feed the dogs, Arawak babies were killed for dog food.
… I told you it was graphic.
Christopher Columbus got lost. He aimed for Asia and instead hit the Caribbean. He walked onto land inhabited by other people, and decided that it was now his land. And then he tortured, maimed, and killed them. All in the name of “discovery.”
It’s time to rethink Columbus Day. This day should not be about celebrating him. We should not be revering a person who committed genocide when, if he were alive to do it today, we would send him to death row. We should instead be honoring the lives of the indigenous people he erased from existence. Feminspire editor Jess Mary Aloe adds, “… I think it’s important to remember that the establishment of Columbus Day as a national holiday/day for Italian-American heritage came during a time when there were massive Italian immigrant communities who were not assimilated like they are today. There was a lot of hostility and discrimination. I support rethinking it, but I don’t think it’s fair to completely erase the Italian-American component from it either.” Shifting the focus from this vile, murderous man to marginalized groups would give the day new life and give it a reason to actually be a holiday.
But as it stands right now, happy Genocide-Transferral-Of-Diseases-Slavery-Land-Stealing-And-Calling-It-Discovery Day! I hope that while you enjoy your new refrigerators and power drills, you’ll remember the lives of the people Columbus murdered and the Italian-Americans subjected to violence in the land he supposedly discovered.
Written by Alisse Desrosiers
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