Posted tagged ‘Native Americans’

Columbus Day Darkly

October 14, 2011

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?

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Photos and text copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

In Spirit of Spring

April 20, 2011

My last post was about plants that can kill — nuclear power plants. This one is a few words about real plants and the great power for rebirth in nature. It is a perfect time for that, especially since on April 22 we are celebrating Earth Day.

Earth Day was established 41 years ago (in 1970) as a day dedicated to educating people about the importance of understanding and protecting our environment, and to celebrate our planet.


Apparently the idea of Earth Day has caught the emotions of many, and today more than 100 different countries celebrate Earth Day. The idea was originated by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin in the 1960s and evolved over several years. You may wish to read “How the First Earth Day Come About” written by Senator Nelson himself.

Thinking about Earth Day and being familiar with Native American culture, I wonder if the concept of an Earth Day does not feel a bit strange from their perspective — after all for them every day was (and is) an Earth day. Their culture is rooted in connection to and respect for Mother Nature.

The vitality of the earth is pronounced this spring in our yard more strongly than in past years. Many plants of southern Arizona suffered great damage this winter which was unusually harsh — I do not remember such a cold winter since I moved here, and that was 11 years ago already! Oh, of course it was a very mild one in comparison to other places in this country, but for the plants not accustomed to such low temperatures, the freezing cold was deadly. So I was watching our yard anxiously, looking for signs of life in each plant. Some of them just did not make it, some are badly hurt, and some survived remarkably well.

prickly pear with new spring growth oleander with new spring growth
Mesquite tree
Fresh growth: prickly pear, oleander, mesquite tree

Seeing new growth is very exciting and calls for celebration. So this Friday, which is Earth Day, planting some new plants and trimming the old ones would seem an appropriate tribute that could even extend to the weekend.

It just happens, however, that this year April 22 is also a Good Friday, followed by Easter Sunday. These days are very important and celebrated by many in traditional ways, as in my native Poland for instance.

Coming from Polish culture I have kept some of its Easter traditions, like coloring Easter eggs and inviting family and friends for an Easter brunch. Not being a religious person, I see that holiday as a celebration of spring and new life.  So when I was introduced in this country to the concept of the Easter Bunny and to the fun of an Easter egg hunt, I embraced both with pleasure. I was nicely surprised to learn that the Easter Bunny was not an invention of American marketing, but was introduced to the States by German settlers in the 18th century.

The Easter egg (according to Wikipedia) is “a pagan symbol of the rebirth of the Earth in celebration of spring and was adopted by early Christians as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus.” Most cultures accepted the symbol of an egg as a start of new life. In springtime, birds are nesting and laying eggs, and rabbits and hares are prolific. Therefore, it is not surprising that eggs, chicks, and rabbits are common symbols of spring.

This year with Easter in late April we can all, religious and non-religious people, celebrate Earth Day and Easter at the same time and in a variety of ways. I see this as a very attractive, peaceful, and unifying time for all.

Alicja Mann's Easter Egg collection blue pot of flowers

Happy Earth Day, Happy Easter weekend, Happy Spring!

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Photo of Earth from the sumeRemus blog, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 France License. Text and other photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

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