Columbus Day is increasingly attached to more realistic story of exploitation


Today, Monday, is the second Monday in October, which used to be celebrated as “Columbus Day,” in recognition of the Italian adventurer who was sailing for Spain when he made one of the earliest nautical crossings of the Atlantic from Europe to what we now call the Americas.

My current Google calendar lists it as both “Columbus Day” and “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” which is just one of the many ways “Columbus’s” stock has dropped over the past half-century or so. (When I was in grade school, it was not only just “Columbus Day,” but we also exaggerated Columbus’s achievements, downplayed his crimes, and also called him “Christopher Columbus,” a name he never called himself.) 

If you’re curious, “Columbus”  grew up and started his career under his Italian name, Cristoforo Colombo, but since his Atlantic crossing was sponsored by Spain, he was using at that time a more Spanish version, namely Cristóbal Colón. “Christopher Columbus” is a more anglified version of his name, which Americans have embraced because, y’know, we mostly speak English.

By 1992, when I first familiarized myself with and wrote about him in my Strib days, some of the many differences between the lionized version of Columbus on which I had been indoctrinated in my youth and the far less admirable colonizer/abuser I have since learned about, Columbus Day had declined from a celebration of Colombo’s “discovery” to a more realistic story of conquest and exploitation.

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I really have no clear idea what level of Columbus heroism is preached to kids in school nowadays. When I was their age, we were still sold a hero who “discovered” the “New World.” It borders on amazing to me now that, at least during my growing up years in the 1950s and early ’60s, the story was taught to us so one-sidedly, and so dismissively toward the non-white “natives” who were “discovered” and all that rot, without much effort to understand what became of those less-well-armed peoples and nations.

It’s interesting to at least wonder what are the stories on which we have raised our children and based our lives and historical attitudes that will seem as ludicrous to the intelligentsia of a century or two into the future, and which will cause our great-great-great grandchildren to ask how we could have subscribed to such rubbish.


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