By Abrahan Deleon
Every year, Americans observe Columbus Day. Banks are closed, some schools are recessed and government offices are empty in remembrance of this European explorer. Columbus is not only remembered in October, but we learn in American history about the influence he had in opening North America to Europeans. In fact, "In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-Two, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue" is a mnemonic many use to remember that important date. Unfortunately, we were not taught the reality behind Christopher Columbus' visit. Columbus was responsible for slaughtering, enslaving and exploiting Native inhabitants when he arrived. He caused an epidemic on a massive scale, and European diseases decimated Native populations. His "founding" of North America also led to the enslavement of many Native people, which further strained relationships between Europeans and Native inhabitants. What emerges from this "holiday" is not only the bloodshed that Columbus caused, but also the "heroification" of a man that was responsible for widespread destruction.
Many of us were taught that Columbus was one of the first European explorers to reach the Caribbean. Historians have found that many explorers, from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and early Europeans, like the Vikings, made voyages to North America before Columbus. In essence, Columbus is credited for "founding" North America, even though other explorers, and Native peoples, had been there long before Columbus arrived. What separated Columbus from these other explorers is that he claimed everything he saw when he disembarked from his boat. Native lands, mineral wealth, natural resources and even the inhabitants became European "property." European weapons made the conquest much more feasible because they were able to control the Native population through violence. They brutally conquered Native populations through force, and coercion. They would torture, maim, rape, and commit other unspeakable acts. Native inhabitants were forced to work in mines, rather than partake in their traditional farming occupations and new animals were introduced by European conquerors that were unknown to the native ecosystem. Europeans also brought diseases that caused outbreaks on an epidemic level. Native peoples were also enslaved, and many were sent back to Europe as slaves. It is also important to note that it was not only material wealth that spurred European explorers, but also the proselytizing nature of Christianity (Samuel Marble, Before Columbus, and Kirkpatrick Sale, The Conquest of Paradise).
It is important to note that what we have been taught about Columbus has been either grossly inaccurate, or exaggerated. When Congress pushed for a national "holiday" celebrating Columbus Day, it appears they were not aware of all the facts behind Columbus, or were not interested in the racist implications it held for many Native Americans. Unfortunately, we have been taught lies about Columbus that have become fact. History textbooks have created a Christopher Columbus that exists on a mythic level. Even though there were earlier European explorers, he "devised" the idea that the world was not flat. Paintings depict him as a benevolent explorer that befriended Native people he encountered. Without presenting the negative aspects of Columbus and other historical figures, they have become "heroified," and we are presented with a person that did not make any mistakes, or commit any wrong acts. This is most evident when we discovered that Thomas Jefferson had children with Sally Hemings, his African American slave, and the intense opposition that exists about recognizing this facet of Jefferson's life. As James Loewen found, by omitting, and sanitizing aspects of our national "heroes," we are only left with their hard work, determination, patriotism and other virtues Americans celebrate. In essence, these figures are given a, "...Disney version of history..." By not presenting Americans with all the facts about historical figures, it makes us feel that we can only make change if we are perfect and noble human beings. If students were presented with everything about our national heroes, many more might pursue to attack social ills in our society today.
It is also important to realize that our national figures need to be from all walks of life; advocates from the poor corners of our society, women, people of color and other historically marginalized groups. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are extremely important, but how many students can name other influential people of color who have been social advocates? Students are given the accomplishments of great European American men, but people of color have very few role models they can emulate. In no way am I advocating that we erase important historical figures like George Washington, but it is important to know that Washington did own slaves and was not a demigod, but possessed the fears, and insecurities we all have.
Christopher Columbus is a very important historical figure, both positively and negatively. He was one of the many explorers that helped open trade routes for Europeans, but at the expense of Native Americans. His legacy will never be forgotten for the countless Native inhabitants he was directly and indirectly, responsible for killing, torturing and enslaving. Since we are a country founded upon freedom, liberty and democracy, does Christopher Columbus deserve to have a national holiday? I leave this question for you to decide
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I think that this holiday should be removed, its just wrong and racial, also i think that during higher grades, the truth should be taught about these "heros" and "rolemodles" in school.
As of my last post, what do you, the forum surfers, think of this?