I have heard some negative rumblings about the legacy of Columbus over the past few years. Apparently, Christopher Columbus did not literally discover “America” and he was somewhat of a tyrant. He also inadvertently spread disease among the indigenous peoples he encountered, enslaved some of them, mutilated some of them, etc. But he did navigate his way to the Caribbean area not once but four times and was a pretty good mariner for his time.
In an effort to counter the negative aspects of Christopher Columbus’ legacy, some states celebrate “Indigenous People’s Day” on the second Monday of October instead of Columbus Day which is still a federal holiday. According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_Peoples%27_Day)
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a holiday that celebrates and honors Native American peoples and commemorates their histories and cultures. It is celebrated across the United States on the second
Monday in October. It began as a counter-celebration held on the same day as the federal holiday of Columbus Day, which honors Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. Many reject celebrating him, saying that he represents “the violent history of the colonization in the Western Hemisphere”.
And not to overly complicate the counter-celebration of Columbus Day, but there is also a “Native American Day” and an “American Indian Day”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_Day)
Native American Days a holiday celebrated across the United States in lieu of Columbus Day. Native American Day honors the cultural contributions of Native American communities to the respective
state’s history, as well as to the overall country. The state of Tennessee observes a similar American Indian Day each year on the fourth Monday of September.
OK so there is nothing wrong with celebrating Native Americans and their culture, but why do we now blame Christopher Columbus for the entire violent history of colonization in the Western Hemisphere? Why does Columbus alone bear the blame for the adverse impact of colonization on the Americas by the Europeans who first came here and later by the American colonists who pushed westward? For example, what about the Spanish Conquistadors? These guys made Columbus look like a boy scout.
After Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, many Spaniards decided to become conquistadors, dreaming of gold, power, and adventures. Conquistadors, which in Spanish means “the ones who conquer,” are remembered for their brutality to natives, colonizing any population they came across in the name of the King of Spain. (https://www.factinate.com/people/37-bloody-facts-spanish-conquistadors/)
Columbus was able to convince King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of Spain to sponsor his voyages so that he could find a faster route to Asia by sailing west. Christopher Columbus made 4 voyages to the New World between 1492 and 1502. Columbus basically discovered parts of the northern Caribbean and Central America during this time. Columbus never thought that he had discovered the New World. He thought he had discovered the outer reaches of the Asian continent. He died in 1506 in Spain.
We now know that Leif Erikson, a Viking, most likely discovered North America 500 years before Columbus landed in the Caribbean. And yes, there is a National Leif Erikson Day which is celebrated on October 9 and also happens to be SpongeBob SquarePants’ favorite holiday. Isn’t SpongeBob the best! (https://spongebob.fandom.com/wiki/Leif_Erikson_Day)
So how is it that Columbus became synonymous with the discovery of America?
The American Revolution created the Columbus most of us over the age of 30 learned in grade school. Prior to the late 18th century, he was a historical footnote with no connection to the 13 colonies. An Italian, he sailed under a Spanish flag and landed in no part of the modern-day mainland United States. Yet when the need to develop a national history with no discernible connection to Britain arose during the Revolution, early Americans seized upon him. He was a blank slate on whom post-Revolution Americans could project the virtues they wanted to see in their new nation. https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/the-invention-of-christopher-columbus-american-hero/
. . . he was mythologized by a largely Protestant America as a heroic explorer who paved the way for the divinely sanctioned “founding” of the United States by European Christians. Throughout post-
revolutionary America, his name became ubiquitous: In 1784, King’s College in New York was renamed Columbia College; in 1790, the nation’s capital was moved to the District of Columbia; and states like South Carolina and Ohio seated their governments in cities named Columbia and Columbus. https://www.history.com/news/columbus-day-statues-italian-american-controversy
After Columbus’ third voyage to the New World the Spanish authorities had him arrested and brought back to Spain because of his mismanagement of settlements, brutality towards both indigenous people and Spanish colonists, and enslavement of indigenous people. Ok, so Christopher Columbus was no saint, but let’s remember that Columbus’s behavior was typical of the Portuguese and Spanish explorers of his time. In general, when the Europeans sought to colonize the world death, disease, genocide, slavery and other atrocities usually followed. And the Vikings? They also liked to rape and pillage as they explored. Should we also change the name of the Minnesota Vikings football team?
So now they’ve taken down the statute of Christopher Columbus in Columbus, Ohio in addition in other cities around the U.S.
“The Columbus statue is a deeply rooted public celebration of the Italian immigrant heritage, and it’s a public expression of our pride, our culture, our history and our identity,” Basil Russo, president of the Order of Italian Sons and Daughters of America, told Newsweek.
“The effort is to try and demonize Columbus because he has become the poster boy for European colonization of America, and they choose to blame him for all of the ills that the Native American community believes he inflicted on them, which is very unfair because you can’t judge a historical figure by applying contemporary standards to them,” Russo added. “The strength of America lies in its diversity, and we don’t celebrate our diversity by trying to erase our history. https://www.newsweek.com/italian-americans-have-columbus-conundrum-1511262
Can we still have off on the second Monday in October to go to Columbus Day sales? It’s the only Federal holiday in October and it nicely bridges the holiday gap between Labor Day in early September and Veteran’s Day in November.