Anti-Columbus Day?

As the evening of October 12 slips by, I can’t resist one blog post on Columbus.

We are taught in American schools that Columbus headed west to find a westward route to China and Japan and to open the Spanish trade in spices.

This was true to some extent, but the contract that Columbus signed with Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Castille and Aragon (Spain) does not mention spices and reveals a far more accurate picture about what Columbus and the Spanish Crown intended. The Crown promised to make Columbus the admiral of any lands that he would “discover and acquire.” Isabella and Ferdinand complied with that contract and made Columbus their admiral in the New World after Pope Alexander VI confirmed Spain’s title to, and ownership of, the already occupied lands Columbus “discovered.”

Columbus’ actions as admiral in the New World led to slavery (the encomienda system), massacres, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of native peoples on the islands he opened up to Spanish settlement and exploitation.

I ran across a short statment that addresses this issue in a radio segment transcript by Rose Aguilar. She said in part: “The best-selling “People’s History of the United States” by the late people’s historian Howard Zinn begins with a story about the Arawak men and women of the Bahama Islands running to greet Christopher Columbus and his sailors with food, water, and gifts. Columbus later wrote in his log, “They brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned. They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane. They would make fine servants. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

As Ms. Aguilar says: “This is the man who is still celebrated in the United States. According to most calendars, the second Monday in October marks Columbus Day. Schools are closed, many people have the day off, and shoppers rush to Columbus Day sales.

But thanks to social media, there is a growing campaign to Reconsider Columbus Day. In 2009, Nu Heightz Cinema filmmakers Carlos Germosen and Crystal Whelan teamed up with community activists and indigenous organizations including the United Confederation of Taino People to develop a public service announcement which encourages people to learn the truth about the man who committed heinous crimes against the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and millions of natives throughout the Americas, and set the stage for the slave trade in the New World.

In the video, a range of mostly people of color say, “It’s not your fault. It happened a long time ago, but remaining neutral and pretending like it didn’t happen or that it doesn’t still impact us today. So please, take the day to learn the whole story. Celebrate the people who were here first. Petition for a nationally recognized indigenous holiday. So please, reconsider the story of Columbus. . . .”

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