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October 7, 2018

Why is Celebrating Columbus Day still a Thing?

Do the majority of Americans really still believe the whitewashed story of, “In fourteen hundred ninety-two; Columbus sailed the ocean blue?”

Monday, October 8 is my youngest son’s 16th birthday. It is also known, in the United States, as Columbus Day.

Schools, banks, and government offices and services are all closed—but in honor of what exactly?

At this point, most people know the true story of Christopher Columbus and we know that, in addition to not being a nice guy, he didn’t actually discover America.

Let’s check some facts:

Christopher Columbus really was an explorer.

He really did have three ships named the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

He really did sail in 1492, in an expedition funded by Spain.

But, that’s where the fairy-tale story, that we’ve all heard and memorized growing up, ends.

The reality is that Columbus enslaved the indigenous people of the Caribbean.

Through mistreatment, violence, and murder, Columbus tried to squash any rebellion of the native peoples. The exploration also brought diseases that nearly wiped out the native inhabitants of the West Indies. Columbus was eventually found guilty of mismanagement in the West Indies and sent back to Spain.

That doesn’t sound like something we should be honoring.

The real reason we “celebrate” Columbus Day is because the Knights of Columbus, a powerful organization of the Catholic Church, lobbied President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s to make it a holiday. In 1937, Columbus Day was officially recognized as a national holiday.

But we know so much more now, than we did in the 1930s.

We know that banks need to insure the funds of their customers.

We know that a woman’s place is wherever she makes it.

We know that no one has the right to force their religious beliefs on anyone else.

We know that being white doesn’t give you the right to take something that isn’t yours to begin with.

And we know that Christopher Columbus did not discover America.

The Knights of Columbus (named in honor of Christopher Columbus), do not acknowledge the atrocities that Columbus has come to be associated with. The organization continues to call Christopher Columbus a “man of faith and courage.”

Given what we now know about the real Christopher Columbus, the powerful Catholic lobby behind the observance, and the impact of both slavery and colonization, isn’t it time to rethink this day?

Several cities, including Denver, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day to recognize the wealth of culture that was destroyed in providing gold and spices to Spain, and other resources to Europe. Making an official change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, would allow us to acknowledge the great cost that was paid by native people throughout history in the establishment of our American way of life.

This year on Columbus Day, I will not be honoring the sailing of three ships across the ocean blue.

I will honor my son and the 16 years he has blessed my life.

I will give thanks for the many blessings in my life, including the freedoms I have in this country.

And I will honor the people whose lives meant so little to Christopher Columbus, and whose stories we don’t hear.

 

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author: Carin Reeve

Image: blastingnews

Editor: Julie Balsiger