Columbus Day Darkly

How did you celebrate Columbus Day last Monday?

Columbus Day has been observed by most states of this country since 1937 when Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed October 12 a federal holiday as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus.

Many Italian-Americans view Columbus Day as a day to celebrate their Italian heritage. Most of us, however, do not know how to celebrate that day, except enjoying a day off from work or going shopping. So on Monday I was wondering what was happening on Columbus Day besides special sales? Nothing or almost nothing, I discovered — nothing in Tucson, anyway, and most likely in the rest of Arizona. Sorry! Casa Grande held a 3-day event, the Arizona Soccer Tournament for the Columbus Cup.

Having had some issues about this holiday for some time, I decided to “observe it” by taking a long walk on Columbus Boulevard here in Tucson and thinking about Christopher Columbus. It was a nice and easy celebration — Columbus Boulevard is only a few steps away from our home and is a pleasant street for walking or jogging, especially the northern part of it that leads to the Rillito River.

Monday morning was sunny and warm and I truly enjoyed being reacquainted with the desert plants and houses along the boulevard. I had not walked it for a while, having been away from Tucson.

Columbus Boulevard, Tucson

Columbus Blvd in Tucson

McCormick Park, Tucson, Arizona

McCormick Park on Columbus Blvd

A charming spot along Columbus Blvd

Rillito River, Tucson, Arizona

Waterless Rillito River

My walk, in truth, was a nice procrastination from writing this post. I procrastinated the next day as well, since I found the issue of Columbus Day a difficult one to write about. Finally, I am writing today, on the “real” Columbus Day, October 12, so please bear with me!

Quite a few years ago I wrote (in one of my op-ed columns) about the dark side of Columbus Day but did not question the celebration of it. Today I do!

Five hundred nineteen years ago on October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus and his sailors arrived in the Bahamas. When they stepped ashore, for the first time since the voyages of the Vikings, a small piece of the New World felt the presence of Europeans. That event changed the history of the world much more significantly than any other geographical exploration.

Why was there such a strong response in Europe to discovery of America? The author of “America in Europe: A History of the New World in Reverse”, German Arciniegas, addresses that question. “The fervor, the passion, the spontaneity that had been restrained for centuries broke their barriers and a new era was opened. Man began to declare his own rights, at the risk of anarchy. When one reflects with sufficient perspective on this deep, radical change, one finds the words that define this new course: Independence, Freedom.”

What was freedom and independence for newcomers became oppression, displacement, and loss of freedom for the indigenous people of this continent.

So why are we still celebrating the man who in truth was not a visionary about the existence of the New World, but stumbled upon it by mistake? At the time of his first voyage Columbus’ intention was not discovery of the New World but travel to India. Assuming that he had reached the “Indies,” Columbus named the native people of San Salvador “Indians” and since then “Indians” has become the name of the natives on both American continents.

Columbus’ attitude towards natives of the New World was less than admirable. It is not fair to judge that man of the 15th century by the standards of our thinking in the 21st century; still, it is impossible to like him while reading the well known excerpts from his logbook regarding the natives: “They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance…. They would make fine servants…. With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them to whatever we want.”

A quote from his second Voyage of 1495, when many Indians were taken as slaves and died on the way to Spain, is also telling, “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

I have to admit that I was oblivious to the dark side of the New World discovery for quite a few years of my living in this country and while living in Poland. Writing a book with a Chief of the Wampanoags of Mashpee (an American Indian tribe on Cape Cod) — Son of Mashpee — opened my eyes widely. At that time I read a lot of history of the Wampanoags and other tribes of American Indians. While reading, one could only cry….

Columbus Day has been a controversial holiday for a long time. Some feel ashamed of it. Some feel angry about it. Some wonder what to do about it.

It is obvious that we cannot change history, but I think we can and should stop celebrating Columbus Day. It would be very appropriate, in my opinion, to keep the holiday, rename it and dedicate it to those who were present in the New World when “discovered” by Christopher Columbus. Let’s follow the example of South Dakota that already celebrates Native American Day in place of Columbus Day.

Stop Columbus Day

And what do you think about it?

* * *

Photos and text copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

Explore posts in the same categories: Arizona, Celebrations, Essays, Events, Feelings, Opinions, Photo stories, Photography, Places, Thoughts

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4 Comments on “Columbus Day Darkly”

  1. Marina G. Says:

    I’ve been looking forward to the time that I could read this. Now that I have done so, I have to say, not surprisingly, what you have done here is more than I could have anticipated. A truly gratifying piece. Well done, my friend!

  2. Alicja Mann Says:

    Many thanks Marina!

    What would I do without the readers like you?!

    I truly was hoping for some response to the issue I touched in this post, but I guess it is not going to happen. In truth – there are so many issue to deal with in our world, and so little time…. One has to be very wise to choose the right battle.

    Thank you again – Alicja

  3. Connie Graham Says:

    Before learning of South Dakota’s solution, it occurred to me that an “Explorer’s Day” might reduce the sting. But changing it to “Native American Day” is a really great idea.

    Thank you, Alicja.

    Connie

    • Alicja Mann Says:

      Hello Connie,

      Thank you for your comment. I am glad that you do like the concept of changing Columbus Day to “Native American Day”! The problems is how to do it legally?
      Alicja


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