Today is Columbus Day in the western hemisphere (known as Día de la Raza in many Latin American countries, and as Fiesta Nacional in Spain).
And, oh, what a spider’s web of feelings it evokes!
So who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this narrative? Simple answer: Humans. Complicated answer: Have you got a lifetime? But the twitter-snapchat-sound-bite mediaverse doesn’t do complexity, so the narrative is reduced to this:
Old version: Noble explorers from Europe found a nearly empty world teeming with natural riches and settled here. Oh, yeah, and they encountered a few hopelessly primitive people along the way and taught them how to be civilized.
New version: Evil murdering racists from Europe found a world occupied by noble people living together in harmony, and then stole their lands and committed mass genocide against them.
Both narratives are childishly simple. The settlement of the Americas by Europeans was a sometimes noble, frequently cruel adventure. Humans throughout the world at the time embraced racism and slavery as natural and inevitable, and that informed their actions. Europeans murdered, befriended, and occasionally died to protect the natives. The indigenous peoples themselves were sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent groups composed of individuals, not types, who frequently made treaties with their neighbors, but also sometimes enslaved them.
There’s a move afoot to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. In other words, to swap Narrative #1 for Narrative #2. I asked my wife what she thought and she said, “Neither.” It took me a while to process her concise conclusion. But then it struck me:
Swapping one for the other diminishes all. Turning Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day reduces all Europeans to murderers and all Indigenous Peoples to victims. So I’d like to humbly suggest that we do two things:
First, celebrate Indigenous Peoples on a different day altogether. Let’s honor and explore their millennia-deep history and varied cultures, rather than merely mourn their 300 year subjugation by Europeans. Let’s make it a new day, not a used and infected one.
Second, turn Columbus Day into Americas Day, a title already employed by several Latin American countries (Día de las Américas). Let’s use October 10 both to celebrate and discuss the mix of human courage and cowardice, evil and nobility, and everything in between this day represents.
And if we kick anyone out, let it be the spider that built this web!