Monday, October 8, 2012

The Senselessness of Columbus Day

Even if I wanted to, I could not keep track of the number of times someone rolled their eyes at me for not celebrating Columbus day. It's usually followed by a sigh or a comment like, "What's the big deal?" I am told how it all happened so long ago or to be grateful. I am told to be grateful that Columbus founded America because none of us would be here if he hadn't. I normally keep my mouth shut and post some sarcastically hilarious photo from with a witty comment about how I really feel about the subject on my Facebook wall. But today, I thought I would give an actual opinion of why Columbus should not be celebrated.

It amazes me that in this day and age we still have to inform people that he did not in fact discover America at all. He landed in the Caribbean. For whatever the reason the man never made it to the main land. It was Amerigo Vespucci that cleaned up his mess. Not only did he make his way to the main land but he went from the Caribbean to Central America all the way down to South America. Columbus thought South America stopped at Brazil. Amerigo figured out it was much larger. After realizing that Columbus was a liar, Amerigo was dispatched to do the job right. As a result, the Americas were named for him. Still, neither actually discovered any part of the Americas as Native Americans were already here.

Many still believe that Columbus was Spanish. Perhaps it is because he worked for Spain. But he was actually Italian. This could be part of the reason why it is so difficult to banish this country of the shame of the failed navigator. Every year in New York, a parade and celebration takes place to commemorate this famous Italian. Like him or not, he is a part of their history. When you consider Ellis Island and the other elements of Italian history, one can understand why they want Columbus to remain a beloved hero. Yet, no one seems to want to acknowledge Amerigo Vespucci, the navigator that helped to exposed Columbus as a fraud and did what he set out to do.

Two days following Columbus' arrival in the Bahamas, he recorded in his personal log, "These people are very unskilled in arms, with 50 men they could all be subjected and made to do all that one wished." In November 1493, on a return trip to Hispaniola, Columbus ordered the enslavement of six indigenous women for the purpose of allowing his crew to rape them, as the voyage was long and on previous voyages, the crew were resorting to "unholy interactions." In February 1495, Columbus rounded up 1,500 Arawak women, men and children, and imprisoned them. He then selected the 500 of them that he deemed the most marketable and shipped them to Spain. Only 300 arrived alive in Seville. In 1498, documents indicate that Columbus enslaved another 600 Carib people. By the decade's end, Columbus had kidnapped at least 1,400 indigenous people to send back to the Spanish slave markets.

No one would dare celebrate the Dutch in America for bringing over the first African slaves. We all know how the South was built on the backs of African slaves and much of what we have in this country today is due to interactions with those slaves. Yet there is no Dutch holiday, there is no specific day of remembrance for the Dutch traders who brought them over, but we have done just that for Columbus. So the argument that we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Columbus is a ridiculous one. He was never here, but Amerigo Vespucci was. He didn't help build this country in any way, but slaves did. Why isn't there a national day to remember the lives of the slaves that suffered after being brought to the country against their will? Why do we take a day off to observe Columbus but not to observe Native American Heritage day?

Consider this, my parent's generation born from the 1950's and 60's are old enough to remember boarding schools. They remember suffering at the hands of the Spanish long after Columbus had died. Should they celebrate him anyway? I had a great aunt that was 107 years old when she died. She was old enough to remember boarding schools and slavery. When she was placed into a home, they used restraints to keep her from running back home. She suffered painful flashbacks of being tied down at a time when slavery was supposed to be over. She did not survive the year. Many have described her as having Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome, (PTSS). Should she have celebrated the "accomplishments" of Columbus?

There comes a point when you have to think for yourself and stand up for what's right. It may be uncomfortable to move away from the crowd, but celebrating someone who caused so much pain makes even less sense. 

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