“Columbus Day”: A Misnomer

The+Arrival+of+Christopher+Columbus+to+America+1492+%28Painting+by+John+VanDerlyn%29
The Arrival of Christopher Columbus to America 1492 (Painting by John VanDerlyn)

The Arrival of Christopher Columbus to America 1492 (Painting by John VanDerlyn)

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Google Common License

The Arrival of Christopher Columbus to America 1492 (Painting by John VanDerlyn)

Peri Munter, Writer

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Families and students across America eagerly anticipate the second Monday of October every year as a reprieve from school, but they may not give a great deal of thought to the reason behind the day off.  There are, in fact, several holidays on October 9th, the day this federal holiday with which we are all familiar. was celebrated this year. Many Americans honor Beer and Pizza Day, National Moldy Cheese Day,  and of course Submarine-Hoagie-Hero-Grinder Day  ( https://www.checkiday.com/10/9/2017 ). In addition to those irreplaceable aspects of American culture, we also celebrate another holiday on October 9th: Columbus Day.

Columbus Day has existed as early as 1792 in an infant America, but it was only in 1937 that it became a federal holiday. Since then, it has consistently received news coverage and airtime, though in recent years more often than ever before. The controversy of Columbus Day is not a new concept; however, this issue seems to have only recently come to national attention. Though some Columbus Day supporters claim it as a holiday for Italian-American Heritage, while others defend Columbus’s name as innocent, the fact remains that since Columbus’s own landing, the truth surrounding his role in the “discovery” of the Americas has been manipulated by bias, misunderstanding, and ignorance.

When a historical “truth” is challenged, it immediately calls into question the reliability of a narrative. History can often only be built from narratives- from letters or diary entries, from various human-created records potentially fraught with human flaws- and this is what historical truth is built upon. If our history is only as accurate as the historians and record-keepers, how can anyone be justifiably defensive of it? If there is, for instance, a history that is based exclusively on the records of a single culture, or a single group, how can that history truly be accurate? The answer does not fall in shades of grey, and this is no trick question. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche explains, such single-sided histories “create stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete” (“The Danger of a Single Story”).

Honoring a holiday based on an incomplete history perpetuates such stereotypes. It creates divisions and increases misunderstandings where instead it is long overdue for America to reflect the multi-storied, multi-cultural, many perspectives that together form a more accurate history of Columbus in the Americas. The history of Christopher Columbus’s explorations are a perfect example of the impact of an inaccurate, one-sided portrayal of history. From Columbus’s very first settlement (which was in present-day Haiti- he never set foot in North America), the clashes between indigenous civilizations and the explorers left behind bloodshed and single-sided records bearing the words and therefore the bias of the ultimate victors- Columbus and his crew, and all who would follow in his white european footsteps.This in and of itself confronts yet another of many prominent issues with the honoring of Columbus Day- Columbus cannot be awarded any credit for “discovering” a new world, since the lands which he explored were already filled with rich cultures and civilizations. However, as that ultimate victor, and as the singular group whose records were preserved, today we are commonly left with that singular perspective to then create a single-sided history.

The fate of the civilizations which encountered Columbus may not always be widely recognized, but it is not difficult to learn. Indeed, this fate is more clear in what one does not learn than in what one does, because today it is still uncommon for students to hear about the people who were murdered, raped, or enslaved following Columbus’s exploitation of the “New World”. Instead, those cultures simply fall off the pages of our history textbooks to make room for developing European settlements and trade. Education favoring Columbus is more common because his actions, and the actions of those who followed him, ensured that any education about the people and culture he oppressed would be challenging.

So, back to Columbus Day. The name speaks for itself; it is no Italian-American day of heritage, nor should it be. Italian culture deserves better than to be celebrated synonymously with a man whose explorations precipitated the oppression, enslavement, and resulting genocide of thriving civilizations. While it may be true that the Americas would be different today had Columbus not sailed into Haiti in 1492, this is not a point of pride worthy celebration, it is a stain of guilt upon the national conscience that the American identity should be so founded in that oppression, enslavement, and genocide. Columbus Day is not a holiday worthy of honor, it must either be a day of recognition and penitence for the impacts of Columbus on indigenous peoples, or nothing at all.

https://www.livescience.com/16468-christopher-columbus-myths-flat-earth-discovered-americas.html

 

http://www.history.com/topics/exploration/christopher-columbus

 

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1 Comment

One Response to ““Columbus Day”: A Misnomer”

  1. Manijeh sharif on October 26th, 2017 7:39 am

    Wow!!! What a great article! This is so well researched, well written and thoughtful. Peri, you should try to submit your article to New York Times next year. Extremely well done! You rock!

    [Reply]

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