Published On: Sat, Oct 12th, 2019

The “Columbus Day” controversy

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Columbus Day is a national holiday in many countries of the Americas and elsewhere which officially celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492.

The landing is celebrated as “Columbus Day” in the United States but the name varies on the international spectrum. In some Latin American countries, October 12 is known as “Día de la Raza” or (Day of the Race). This is the case for Mexico, which inspired Jose Vasconcelos’s book celebrating the Day of the Iberoamerican Race.

However, a discussion has revolved around points of contention for years — what to name this holiday.

Over 500 year after he “discovered” the New World—kicking off centuries of exploration and colonization of the Americas—Christopher Columbus is still honored with a holiday every October. As historians have continued to dig into the life of Christopher Columbus, controversy has arisen over continuing to honor the Italian explorer as a hero.

Like many European explorers, Christopher Columbus encountered indigenous people throughout his voyages. There are three main sources of controversy involving his interactions with the indigenous people he labeled “Indians”:

  1. The use of violence and slavery.
  2. The forced conversion of native peoples to Christianity.
  3. The introduction of a host of new diseases that would have dramatic long-term effects on native people in the whole American continent.

According to his own log book, on his first day in the New World, Columbus ordered six of the natives to be seized, writing in his journal that he believed they would be “good servants”. Throughout his years in the New World, Columbus enacted policies of forced labor in which natives were put to work for the sake of profits. Later, Columbus sent thousands of peaceful Taino “Indians” from the island of Hispaniola to Spain to be sold. Many died en route.

Columbus’ legacy remains under a cloud of controversy. Protests at Columbus Day parades, efforts to eliminate him from classroom curricula and calls for changing the federal holiday have followed.

A 1977 delegation of Native nations at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas proposed renaming Columbus Day to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

In 1991, dozens of cities and a few American states adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a holiday that celebrates the history and contributions of Native Americans—rather than Columbus.

In fact, a 2015 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that Columbus Day was the most inconsistently-observed US holiday.

In April 2019, the governor of the state of Maine, Janet Mills and local officials reached a milestone in that conversation, signing a bill that officially changed what used to be called ‘Columbus Day’ to ‘Indigenous People’s Day’, instead.

The bill was set to go into law 90 days after her signature, which means this year, October 14, is the first time in Maine’s history that the holiday will officially be referred to under the new name — but, believe or not, there are a number of Mainers out there who do not approve.

Just like Maine, New Mexico and Vermont, have replaced “Columbus Day” with “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” this year.

But as would be expected, not everyone believes a name change is necessary. 

Italian Americans, who have made Columbus Day the centerpiece of Italian Heritage Month, celebrated throughout October, argue the holiday honors the history of immigration, not the explorer. They, therefore, believe the name should be retained or changed to something more suitable, like “Italian Heritage Day”.

What do you think? Be sure to let us know by adding your comments on Facebook or below.

San Miguel Times Newsroom



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