To Columbus or not to Columbus?


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:

article-2449265-1896643300000578-404_634x707Old 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.native-american-playing-flu

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!

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Culture, Mitchellaneous and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to To Columbus or not to Columbus?

  1. toutparmoi says:

    A great post, Mitch, with implications way beyond the western hemisphere.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Thank you, Tout. Yes, I couldn’t help but think about down under (and other places) when I wrote this.


      • toutparmoi says:

        Plans are underway for us to have a a new national day where we commemorate the New Zealand Wars (fought here). This is in addition to ANZAC Day, 25 April, which commemorates NZ’s involvement in wars on foreign soil, and includes returned servicemen and women and non-combatants such as nurses.

        And I totally agree that national days should lead to discussion and learning, not the practice of setting “childishly simple narratives” in concrete.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My dad and I had a much goofier and briefer version of this conversation, which amounted to:

    Him: It’s Columbus Day.
    Me: No it’s not. We should make it something else.
    Him: It’s Seamus Day, then.
    Me: And what does one do on Seamus day?
    Him: Play with Seamus.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As one with Native American heritage, I say get rid of the holiday althogether. The fact of Europe Annexing the Americas shouldn’t be celebrated. Neither should we turn it into a meaningless and silly celebration of Native ethnicity, It happened, it’s done, it’s history. We should all just get over it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      I appreciate your point, Vernon. I hadn’t thought of a celebration of Native American culture degrading into something “meaningless and silly,” but it certainly could go that way.


  4. Pingback: What are We Celebrating on Columbus Day? – The View from the Armchair

  5. CwP says:

    Thank you for this piece. Agreed, both the old and new narratives are overly simplistic. Perhaps no specific celebration of European exploration and expansion, with all its attendant negative consequences for indigenous populations, is necessary at all.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Yes! Agreed! Nothing is that simple, that black and white. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Informative and thought-provoking post, Mitch. You’re right about that spider. He’s been weaving all sorts of trouble and sticky wickets since the beginning of time. Won’t it be incredible when he’s kicked out for good?!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Julia Soriano says:

    Great post. I totally agree with you and your lovely wife on this one. When I was studying Christian History in seminary, I was struck by the extraordinary faithfulness of missionaries who came here from Europe, often leaving friends and family to live in the wilderness sometimes not seeing any other human, much less one who spoke the same language for years. With the advantage of hindsight, we judge some of their actions as
    misguided now, but they were kind of astounding in their time., I get so frustrated when all Europeans are characterized as evil and all Native Americans are characterized as noble. And in the circles I travel, it’s common!

    Liked by 1 person

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