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.


author: Carin Reeve

Image: blastingnews

Editor: Julie Balsiger

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Marisa Zocco Oct 9, 2018 2:01am

Many of us have the privilege of simultaneously thinking both ways about this holiday, if we so choose. We European-Americans can be grateful for and celebrate Columbus' "discovery". We're here because of it, and we are fortunate--privileged, actually--to live on this land. But we can--and should--simultaneously acknoweldge that Columbus' actions did lead to the horrific treatment and killing of multiple peoples who were stewards and defenders of the lands and resources that we continue to take and too often abuse. More importantly, it is necessary to acknoweldge the actual peoples who were affected long ago and whose ancestors remain affected today. Things tend to move like a pendulum; politics and human behavior especially. Those who have been or felt neglected, when healing or seeking to heal, are likely to need and cry out for more than the average amount of acknowledgement, validation and love. If we've ever felt neglected, abused or rejected, if we've ever sought to ask for what we need to heal, it should not be difficult to find a small bit of empathy. Happy Indigenous Peoples' Day. Happy Columbus Day.

Roxanne Nelson Oct 8, 2018 9:55pm

Like it or not, Columbus did sail to the "new world." And he was no more guilty of atrocities than anyone else in that era. Find and conquer was the way of the world, and it is important to remember how brutal the native Aztecs and Maya were--they also enslaved other tribes, etc. Peasants in Europe were living as serfs--basically semi-slaves, and Europe and much of the world was in a constant state of war. Slavery was very common globally, and has been since the dawn of the human race. The European explorers were not benevolent looking at them from a 21 century sensibility, but you can't look at history outside the lens of when it happened. It was a major feat for Columbus to cross the Atlantic in those tiny ships and survive. He wasn't the first Europen to arrive, as the Vikings preceded him by several hundred years, and then vanished. But to get back to the argument at hand, most of history is pretty nasty. I don't see many Americans voluntarily giving up their homes and land and returning them to the native tribes. George Washington ahd thomas Jefferson had slaves--should we delete them as well. Franklin Roosevelt was responsible for interning 150,000 Japanese Americans during WW II--does that negate everything else he did? Truman dropped an atomic bomb on civilians--was that really necessary--,many say no. So this fuss over Columbus is just more of the same. Yes, I agree history should be taught to fact, but again, you can't take this out of context from the time period.

Stephanie Steele Oct 8, 2018 4:28pm

I never knew this! I always thought it was all about Christopher Columbus. Thank you for this!

Tib Shaw Oct 8, 2018 2:08pm

The horrible irony being that the Knights of Columbus was founded in the 1880s in reaction to widespread discrimination against Catholics by society and summary exclusion from the more powerful fraternal organizations of the era.

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Carin Reeve

Carin L. Reeve is currently exploring her midlife course correction and recalculating her path. A passionate educator, Carin has been writing about her experiences in urban education on her blog. She is also exploring finding her way on her second blog. Carin lives in Liverpool, New York where she is working on letting go and not being in control of absolutely everything.