Octo𝘣𝘦𝘳 13, 2020
Yesterday was what was, and by some still is, Columbus Day. Columbus Day is a U.S. holiday that commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. The holiday began in 1792 in New York City when the Society of St. Tammany (also known as the Columbian Order) celebrated the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Caribbean in 1492. It was unofficially celebrated in a number of cities and states as early as the 18th century but did not become a federal holiday until 1937. For many, the holiday is a way of both honoring Columbus’ achievements and celebrating Italian American heritage. Columbus Day has been celebrated throughout the United States as an observance of the “discovery” of North America.
There are several problems with this discovery, however. First, Columbus never made it to the Americas, instead landing in the Caribbean Islands. None of Columbus’ four voyages took him any closer to the continent. The continental “discovery” falls to Amerigo Vespucci in 1497, for which the America’s are named. Second, Leif Erikson founded a colony on Greenland around 1000 CE. He returned to Norway and on the way back to Greenland sailed off course and explored the country he named Vineland. This is now thought to be the area of Nova Scotia. Third, When Columbus arrived there were already people here.
According to Yale’s Genocide Studies Program, when Columbus arrived at the island of Hispaniola in 1492, the population was estimated at between “several hundred thousand to over a million inhabitants.” By 1514, only 32,000 Taíno people remained. They had died from “enslavement, massacre, or disease” at the hands of the Spanish. Six years later (1520), they were completely wiped out. For many, Columbus Day is a reminder of a painful history. This caused Berkeley, California to stop celebrating in his honor in 1992. The day was renamed Indigenous Peoples Day, acknowledging those who were already here.
𝗧𝗛𝗢𝗨𝗚𝗛𝗧𝗦: Since this first decision in 1992, 12 states and the district of Columbia have switched to “Native American” or “Indigenous People’s” Day. The state of Hawaii celebrates “Discoverer’s Day” to recognize the Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian Islands. Beginning in 2020, Colorado celebrates Mother Cabrini Day, in honor of Frances Xavier Cabrini, a woman who created schools, hospitals, and orphanages in the United States and Central and South America. In addition, more than 130 cities across the country have taken a stand against the day. It is not too surprising, but many Native American groups do not acknowledge Columbus Day at all. It has been 500 years and we still argue which history is “right.” When we remember our history, we need to remember the reality of what happened and the result of those actions. Acknowledging the failures of the past can be the start of making a new future. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.