We have all heard the saying, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” but is this famous explorer as innocent as he seems? And should we be celebrating his accomplishments in a national holiday?
The holiday started as early as 1792, when across the country many groups celebrated the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery. In 1892, a century later, President Benjamin Harrison declared October 1st as “Discovery Day”, which became a recurring holiday in the following years. This was then later changed to October 12th by Roosevelt, saying this holiday should consist of “appropriate ceremonies in schools and churches” to celebrate Columbus. The official holiday was then finally changed to the second Monday in October, the day we celebrate it today.
The first instance of protest to this holiday came quick, one year after its first official celebration in 1893, when a reverend criticized the Italian navigator, saying he was, “cruel, and guilty of many crimes.” While this may have been more of a criticism on Spain itself, it started a trend in protesting the holiday. In 1938, as Mussolini started to gain power in Italy at the start of World War II, at festivities in Central Park, many started chanting, “Viva Mussolini!” The New York Times reported, “The gathering was definitely sympathetic toward the Fascist regime in Italy.”
In the 1990’s, Columbus started to be seen as a representation of European rather than Italian pride, which lead to the connection between the explorer and the decimation of American indigenous Peoples he caused. These ideas started to spark up in larger cities, like Boston, Denver, Philadelphia and Berkeley. “We were here first” said Ray Geer, a Paucatuck Eastern Pequot and president of the Connecticut River Powwow Society. The push for this is continuing, where more and more cities are deciding to change this day to recognize Indigenous People’s Day rather than Columbus Day, including Salt Lake City and Los Angeles this year. New York even entertained the idea of taking down their famous Columbus Statue in Columbus circle.
In the coming years, we need to ask ourselves, is honoring Columbus a celebration of our history as a country, or disrespectful to the victims of his exploration.