Whether you’re yay or nay about #ColumbusDay, how do you feel…
Columbus Day is a national holiday in many countries of the Americas and elsewhere, and a federal holiday in the United States, which officially celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus‘s arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492.
Christopher Columbus was a Genovese-born explorer who became a subject of the Hispanic Monarchy in order to lead a Spanish enterprise to cross the Atlantic Ocean in search of an alternative route to the Far East, only to land in the New World. Columbus’s first voyage to the New World on the Spanish ships Santa María, Niña, and La Pinta took approximately three months. Columbus and his crew’s arrival in the New World initiated the colonisation of the Americas by Spain, followed in the ensuing centuries by other European powers, as well as the transfer of plants, animals, culture, human populations, and technology between the New World and the Old World, an event referred to by some late 20th‐century historians as the Columbian Exchange.
The landing is celebrated as Columbus Day in the United States, but the name varies on the international spectrum. The Dominican Republic, the epicenter of the historical event and where Columbus first set foot, celebrates this day as “The Discovery of the Americas”. In some Latin American countries, October 12 is known as Día de la Raza or “Day of the Race”. This is the case for Mexico, which inspired Jose Vasconcelos‘ book celebrating the Day of the Iberoamerican Race. Some countries such as Spain refer to the holiday as Día de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional de España, where it coincides with the religious festivity of La Virgen del Pilar. Since 2009, Peru has celebrated Día de los pueblos originarios y el diálogo intercultural (“Indigenous Peoples and Intercultural Dialogue Day”).
Belize and Uruguay celebrate it as Pan American Day and Día de las Américas (“Day of the Americas”). Giornata Nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo or Festa Nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo is the formal name of the celebration in Italy as well as in Little Italys around the world.
Check out the video here: How do you feel about Columbus Day?
Opposition to Observing Columbus Day
For years after the first Columbus Day celebration in 1892, opposition to Columbus Day originated from anti-immigrant nativists who sought to eliminate its celebration because of its association with immigrants from the Catholic countries of Ireland and Italy, and the American Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus. Some anti-Catholics, notably including the Ku Klux Klan and the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, opposed celebrations of Columbus or monuments about him because they thought that it increased Catholic influence in the United States, which was largely a Protestant country.
More recently, mainly since the 1990s, more people oppose Columbus’s and other Europeans’ actions against the indigenous populations of the Americas. This opposition was initially led by Native Americans and was expanded upon by left-wing political parties.
In the summer of 1990, 350 representatives from American Indian groups from all over the hemisphere, met in Quito, Ecuador, at the first Intercontinental Gathering of Indigenous People in the Americas, to mobilize against the 500th anniversary (quin-centennial) celebration of Columbus Day planned for 1992. The following summer, in Davis, California, more than a hundred Native Americans gathered for a follow-up meeting to the Quito conference. They declared October 12, 1992 to be “International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People.”
Two surveys, conducted in 2013 and 2015 by Rasmussen Reports, found 26% to 38% of American adults are not in favor of celebrating Columbus Day.
There are many interrelated strands of criticism. One refers primarily to the treatment of the indigenous populations during the European colonization of the Americas, which followed Columbus’s discovery. Some groups, such as the American Indian Movement, have argued that the ongoing actions and injustices against Native Americans are masked by Columbus myths and celebrations. American anthropologist Jack Weatherford says that on Columbus Day, Americans celebrate the greatest waves of genocide of the American Indians known in history.
A second strain of criticism of Columbus Day focuses on the character of Columbus himself. In time for the 2004 observation of the day, the final volume of a compendium of Columbus-era documents was published by the University of California, Los Angeles‘ Medieval and Renaissance Center. It stated that Columbus, while a brilliant mariner, exploited and enslaved the indigenous population.
Spelman College historian Howard Zinn described some of the details in his book, A People’s History of the United States, of how Columbus personally ordered the enslavement and mutilation of the native Arawak people in a bid to repay his investors.
Journalist and media critic Norman Solomon reflects, in Columbus Day: A Clash of Myth and History, that many people choose to hold on to the myths instead of reality in the events surrounding Columbus. He disputes the idea that the Spaniards’ arrival was beneficial towards the Indians by quoting History of the Indies by the Catholic priest Bartolomé de las Casas, who observed the region where Columbus was governor. Las Casas writes that the Spaniards were driven by “insatiable greed” as they killed and tortured native populations with “the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty” and laments that “my eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write.”
Rod is a blogger, writer, filmmaker, photographer, daydreamer who likes to cook. Rod produces and directs the web series, CUPIC: Diary of an Investigator. He is also the editor, producer and administrator of TNC Network.