Columbus Day or is it?

October 12 is has a various and conflicted history. Traditionally, it has been celebrated as Columbus Day, commemorating the day in 1492 that Columbus arrived on what is now the Bahamas. It is also National Day in Spain, celebrated together with the Feast of Sta. Pilar, patron saint of Aragon.

In 2010 it was declared by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Science, and Cultural Organization) as Spanish Language Day in an effort to promote equal use of all six of it official working languages.  The others being Arabic, Chinese, English, French, and Russian.

This is a strange twist of history because Columbus, of course, was Italian. He famously entreated the Italian government to finance his journey of exploration. However he also less-famously entreated the governments of England and Portugal to the same end and with the same result.

Since the early 90s indigenous groups and their advocates have opposed the celebration of Columbus Day and the European colonization of the Americas. They cite the often cruel treatment of indigenous people and the complete destruction of many native cultures and the nearly complete destruction of many others.

This is not so much an instance of history being re-written as different people writing history. Undoubtedly Columbus brought European, notably Spanish, culture to the Americas. And history until fairly recently came out of that tradition. However now more voices are being heard, notably Native American voices and their advocates. They’re asking for a re-evaluation of the historic “discovery” of the Americas.

There is a proposal in Los Angeles to change the name from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. It is opposed by the Italian American civic groups, who still claim Columbus although he sailed under the flag of Spain.

To date over 100 cities and universities in the United States celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day. Many others celebrate them both. And I should note that August 9 is the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.


This image was created by the United States Department of Defense and as such is in the public domain.


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