By Marianna Conserva ’19
On October 12th, 1492 Christopher Columbus, an explorer, made a long journey, which led him to the discovery a what is often referred to as a “New World” — the world that was as old as any other continent such as the Eurasia and Africa. He landed in what we now call the “Caribbean,” not “North America.” It has been 526 years since Columbus was first deemed the founder Americas and has been honored to be so. But this recognition has not come naturally! In North America — the United States, specifically — President Franklin Roosevelt, created the federal holiday of Columbus Day only in 1937 to bring the nation together; and, as Americans, we have celebrated Columbus’ contributions by making the second Monday of every October a day of celebration ever since. What most of us are unaware of is that Columbus has never made it to the North America, and that his “discovery” paved the way of mass bio-cultural genocide and/or torture of the Native people who lived in the “New World” before he had arrived. (For a vivid example of such genocide see the history of the Taínos, who, Columbus noted, he and his companions wanted to subjugate: Bigelow 2018). Early educators and textbooks often tend to leave out these important details when teaching young children in the US public schools about the discovery of our country. One of the reasons behind this is that they believe the truth is too graphic. Yet, I wonder, how will anyone know, accept or question the truth, if we are constantly hiding it?
Hundreds of years before Europeans stepped foot in America, Indigenous peoples called this land their own. They lived and thrived here! The truth is that Columbus and alike invaded their land and forcefully took it for themselves. The biggest misconception of all is how Columbus “discovered” North America: he didn’t step foot in this portion of the continent, period! Instead, his journeys led him (and those who accompanied him) to various Caribbean Islands and some Central and South American coasts. There are countless misconceptions of his actions in the form of being genuine and praiseful towards the Indigenous peoples “Peaceful and friendly Thanksgiving” and images of “Noble Savage” abound in history books and annual reenactments at public schools! These misconceptions have been passed down through generations for hundreds of years through stories and history books.
I wonder, why are we, as a nation, continuing praising a barbaric invader who forced native people out of their homeland and who proceeded to either enslave or kill these people if they weren’t compliant? As Americans, we must come together to accept and share the truth about Columbus and the Indigenous People who lived here originally. American was created on values that are centered on the idea that we are a nation for all, a land for new beginnings and better futures. If we continue to ignore our own historical past and only shine light on the lies, we ultimately going against the values our nation was built on.
In the past half a century, significant changes have been made to shift away from the celebration of settler colonialism as glorified by the Columbus day. The celebration of the Indigenous People’s Day began in 1992 in the city of Berkley, California. This day falls on (celebrated instead of) the Columbus Day. When approached critically, this fairly recently formed holiday acts to reveal historical truths about the oppression and killings of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. Since 1992, over sixty cities have started celebrating this important holiday. The growing implication of this holiday has become an essential beginning to educating the American public about our societies’ falsely conceptualized and reproduced history.
Association, Unitarian Universalist. n.d. INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY . https://www.uua.org/multiculturalism/dod/indigenous-day.
Bennett-Begaye, Jourdan. 2018. 60 cities & growing! A list of Indigenous People’s Day celebrations this weekend. October 4. https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/news/60-cities-growing-a-list-of-indigenous-people-s-day-celebrations-this-weekend-6q820YDFykOi9igt00JURQ/.
Bigelow, Bill. 2018. “Whose History Matters? Students Can Name Columbus, But Most Have Never Heard of the Taíno People.” Common Dreams. https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/10/04/whose-history-matters-students-can-name-columbus-most-have-never-heard-taino-people
Calfas, Jennifer. 2017. Here Are The Cities That Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day Instead of Columbus Day. October 9. http://time.com/4968067/indigenous-peoples-day-columbus-day-cities/.
Dow, Judy. 2015. “Deconstructing the Myths of Christopher Columbus in Children’s Literature.” http://www.pjcvt.org/deconstructing-the-myths-of-christopher-columbus-in-childrens-literature/
Fletcher, Dan. 2009. Columbus Day. October 12. http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1929666,00.html.
Strauss, Valerie. 2013. Christopher Columbus: 3 things you think he did that he didn’t. October. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2013/10/14/christopher-columbus-3-things-you-think-he-did-that-he-didnt/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.65df54753b34.