Should we celebrate Columbus Day?
- Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who lived from 1451-1506 and voyaged across the Atlantic more than three times (1492, 1493, 1498 and 1502).
- Columbus Day was declared a federal holiday by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937 and is observed on the second Monday in October.
- Italian-Americans fiercely defend the Columbus Day holiday as its establishment came on the heels after the country’s largest lynching, where 11 Italian-Americans were killed by mob “justice” outside of a New Orleans jail in 1891. NPR remembers “Columbus [became a figure for] Italians [to] latch on to as a way to get a foothold in this incredibly hostile environment that they [found] themselves in [following the lynching].”
- Though widely unknown, Columbus adopted a Native American child and advocated for peace with natives from his fellow voyagers even after the natives “burned down an entire Spanish settlement and killed all of the Spaniards in the area.”
Christopher Columbus is a symbol of destruction that should not be celebrated. By arriving in the new world, Columbus and his crew lead to the widespread annihilation of native peoples through disease and violence. Many curriculums gloss over Columbus' awful brutality in schools, leaving many with an inaccurate and gentler image of the conqueror. While it is very important we study, remember, and learn from the figure of Christopher Columbus, a national holiday celebrating him is inappropriate.
There have been plenty of other world-changing events that we remember and study but do not assign holidays to; Columbus should be added to the list. These include 9/11, the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the sinking of the Titanic. These are all important events that shaped the future in a destructive way; therefore, it is inappropriate to celebrate them.
Furthermore, Columbus did not actually discover America. Columbus arrived in the Bahamas before moving on to Hispaniola and Cuba. Though his achievements were great, he was certainly not the first to set foot in the new world. Both Erik the Red, and his son, Leif Erikson, had actually sailed to North America in the 10th and 11th centuries, much earlier than Columbus.
Throughout America, statues of Columbus are being removed as we come to terms with who Columbus really was. The entire nation should join with the 12 states and more than 130 cities that have decided not to recognize Columbus Day. Any alternative holiday such as National Indigenous Peoples Day would encapsulate Columbus's history, without celebrating the brutality.
Columbus did what was historically courageous despite facing geographical and political obstacles. As beneficiaries of his exploration of the Western Hemisphere, we should commemorate this and not lump in Columbus' achievement with any atrocities that followed his discovery. Though Vikings landed in the high North before Columbus, they viciously raided the land and people. Unlike Columbus, their interaction added no value to historical progress. Columbus left a lasting, constructive impact for future generations, bringing education, medicine, and science to the Western Hemisphere.
Attacks against Columbus focus on slave trade and harm done to natives. But Columbus despised the slave trade, writing, 'There are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages, a good price must be paid […] I take my oath that a number of men have gone to the Indies who did not deserve water in the sight of God and of the world.' He believed slavers didn't 'deserve' even water to live. Other contemporaries of Columbus admired and wrote about his anger at the treatment of Natives.
Some site Francisco de Bobadilla as evidence of Columbus' tyrannical nature, but Bobadilla was a 'vicious political opponent of Columbus and schemed, ultimately successfully, to depose him as Governor of the Indies.' Columbus spent much of his life refuting Bobadilla's libel, even turning down 'lucrative agreements with the Spanish crown' that reinforced Bobadilla's lies. Columbus had peaceful relations with the Tainos and even helped them fight off the neighboring cannibalistic Carib tribe, known for eating their children. Columbus came from nothing, was brave, respected the indigenous peoples, and advanced world history in a way never duplicated.
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