OPINION: Columbus Day, 2017

Hero or Villain? You decide.

By Osasere Imade

Monday, October 9th of this year, was an observed holiday that some people celebrate and others do not. In 1937, Columbus Day was first celebrated across the U.S as a national holiday. But there is a growing controversy around this historical figure that encourages people not to celebrate this holiday.

This fall, after the highly publicized removal of public confederate monuments in several states over the summer, more Americans have been saying that commemorative statues of Christopher Columbus are equally offensive, and should also be torn down. Activists protesting the celebration of Christopher Columbus include Native American groups whose ancestors were invaded and abused by Columbus and his Spanish sponsors when his ships accidentally landed in the Caribbean while looking for a sea-route to India.

Anti-Columbus Day protesters are raising public awareness around the troubling truth of what Christopher Columbus actually perpetrated on American Indian people, including slavery and mass genocide, should not be celebrated with statues and a national holiday.
But who is qualified to pick America’s historical heroes?

Since no human being is perfect, and many events in U.S. history concern war or political disputes between different groups, it makes sense that one group’s hero might be another group’s villain. Traditionally the supporters behind Columbus Day have mainly been Italians or Italian-Americans that are proud to celebrate this holiday. But Christopher Columbus is only one of many a historical figures that have recently faced questions about why we even celebrate them. Many former presidents were slaveholders and/or oppressors of American Indians. Should we take their faces off American currency and their names off American cities and street signs? Even current President Trump questioned removing existing monuments that commemorate controversial public figures, asking: “Where will it end?”

Whether you support Columbus Day or not you should hear both sides of this historical figure controversy. The statutes that were protested and taken down before the debate over Christopher Columbus heated up, celebrated the pro-slavery side of the Civil War. African Americans and social justice advocates have been protesting confederate symbols as symbols of racial bigotry for decades. But today, in the context of legal disputes over immigration rights, Christopher Columbus also becomes a symbol of European immigrant pride. Can this controversy then become a teaching moment on the rocky history of American immigration? Or will we only be concerned about whether or not all Americans should consider Christopher Columbus an American hero?

Most people do both good and bad things during their lifetimes. This relates to Columbus because people are questioning what he did in his lifetime. One cannot sugarcoat or gloss over the fact that Columbus did do terrible things for his own benefit and his own goals. Christopher Columbus originally sailed to find a quicker path to Asia for Queen Isabella of Spain. However, he ended up finding parts of the Caribbean and claiming the land for Spain. The problem was that there were already native owners of this land.

Columbus decided to make some of the natives slaves. He even sent natives back to Spain as slaves. Following that, Spain along with the Christian Church took the land as their own land. When Columbus Day became a federal holiday in the U.S. no one carefully analyzed what Columbus did and if he truly deserved to be celebrated.

You may still wonder why people support Columbus or if you already support him, then it could be because you believe it is “your” day. Although working for Spain, Columbus was born an Italian, so Italians (as well as most Americans with European origins) believe it is their holiday, celebrating the arrival of modern Europeans to America.

No matter how you think we should celebrate this holiday, there is no denying that Columbus is a part of history. Whether  he belongs to the right side of history or the wrong side, is up to you to decide.

Perhaps 2017 will be the last year our nation will celebrate Christopher Columbus Day. Currently instead of “Columbus Day” some Americans already celebrate “Indigenous Peoples Day” on the same date. And you never know… this switch may soon become more popular than Columbus Day.



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