Reconsidering Columbus Day
This is a paper I submitted as part of a Latin America History Course at Penn State University. Sources cited are listed at the end of the paper.
Columbus Day became a federal holiday in the United States in 1937. This was lobbied for, in part, by Italian Americans and stands a proud moment of their heritage. Opposition to the celebration dates back as early as the 19th century. (Wikipedia, Columbus Day, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbus_Day)
“Reconsider Columbus Day” – one speaker asks the audience to consider an “indigenous holiday”, which I think would be an interesting take on Columbus day.
“how many unforgivable sins have been committed” speaks the narrator of “500 Nations Part 2”. Historically speaking, that could apply to many events in history, from the Christian Crusades, Muslim conquests, and Jewish holocaust.
Columbus accepted an invitation to come ashore according to the “500 Nations” video. Columbus was welcomed by the indigenous population who lived relatively peaceful as opposed to other encounters which were more like the ‘clashing of empires’ between the new world empires such as the Aztecs and Incas vs those old world empires with charging conquistadores by the likes Cortes and Pizarro.
Columbus was welcomed in peace but saw gold, symbolizing wealth, taken by force. Columbus’ clearly took a shift towards conquest once he saw the gold. “Gold and Docile Island People” is how the video referred to the situation Columbus would report to the world. The spanish conquest of the Caribbean resulted in enslavement of the indigenous people. Bartolomé de las Casas spoke up, which to me is evidence that someone knew something was wrong with the treatment of the indigenous people.
The Eakin text cites the “Columbian Moment” which brought together the old world and the new world. It speaks of the benefits the encounter had in terms of an emergance from cultural isolation but also talks of the destruction and death that followed.
I believe the reversal of attitudes towards Columbus would need to begin with the people of Europe. Those who’s perspective is that Columbus discovered the Americas. Columbus once spotting the gold had a choice, peaceful coexistance and trade, or conquest. It takes one to stand up for a different way before the tide shifts. It is not enough to say that he was simply a product of his time. While his encounter gave birth to Latin America, it came at a terrible cost.
It is often said that history is written by “the winners”. He was in search of a profitable trade route to for the Spice Trade in the first place, not a great explorer or humanitarian. This has to be remembered. It was a very capitalistic enterprise to begin with. “In the final analysis, it is not the man, but the process he initiated, that matters most,” (Eakin, p.59). But which process, the exchange of people, ideas, and culture or the destruction and conquests to follow? The crops that were gained or the lives that were lost?
1. Columbus Day (Discovery Channel): http://www.history.com/topics/christopher-columbus/videos#christopher-columbus-man-and-myth
2. 500 Nations [These are the same sections as are assigned for this week’s lesson.]
- Required: Section on Columbus (Beginning-14:36) 500 NATIONS (Updated link, Fall 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxZYKObdOFU
- Recommended: Enrique’s Rebellion to the Impact of Disease on Indigenous America (14:36-46:15) 500 NATIONS (Updated link, Fall 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxZYKObdOFU
3. Reconsider Columbus Day: Public Service Announcement http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il5hwpdJMcg
4. History of Latin American Cultures – Eakin http://www.amazon.com/The-History-Latin-America-Collision/dp/1403980810