I’d like to wish all of you a happy Columbus Day, but this federal holiday is fraught with controversy. Firstly, only 50% of the country (I don’t know how this number is derived) has the day off as a legal holiday. Secondly, in some parts of the country the holiday recognizes the 145 million people who lived in the areas of the world that Columbus is credited to have “discovered.” For example the city of Seattle calls the second Monday in October “Indigenous Peoples Day.” Why the controversy? Why as a country would we celebrate a man who got lost; enslaved many and decimated millions through disease and murder?
We know that long before Columbus, various indigenous peoples had settled and explored different areas of the Americas. In addition, Norse explorers visited portions of North America. Leif Ericson is believed to have been the first European to visit the area and set up a settlement in the northern portion of Canada’s Newfoundland some 500 years before the arrival of Columbus.
According to Joe Genetin-Pilawa, history professor at George Mason University, Columbus enslaved many of the natives he encountered. Hundreds of thousands more died of diseases introduced by the European visitors. “Within 10 years of the initial landing in 1492, so by 1502, we estimated that the Taino, the native people who lived in the Bahamas, the population dropped from approximately a million to 500.” Those are shocking numbers and difficult to imagine what happened to almost a million people.
Perhaps we can look to our more recent past to understand why in 1937 Columbus Day became a federal holiday. The dark skinned Italians from Sicily were the last wave of Europeans to immigrate to the United States. These dark skinned Italians had to perform the most menial of work that white people ( meaning work other than that designated to black people)could perform. In the American south these dark Italians suffered some of the same atrocious racism as had been perpetuated against African-Americans. There were lynchings of Italians particularly in cities like New Orleans (and why New Orleans is singled out is unclear.)
Then in the 1920’s the United States instituted immigration policies to restrict the immigration of Italians to the United States (they discriminated against all people of any Asian descent.) During this time of immigration “reform” there occurred a sensational murder trial of two Italian men -the Sacco-Vanzetti trials. Many believed despite contradictory evidence and a confession from another man who claimed he was responsible for the murders, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. Many say part of the refusal for a retrial for these two men were because they were Italian. So between the Sacco-Vanzetti trial which began in 1921, the Immigration Act of 1924 and the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, we as a country appeared to be discriminating against those of Italian descent. I have no proof that these occurrences were the basis of creating the Columbus Day Holiday to honor Italian Americans and not Columbus, but then again it made sense to call it “Columbus” Day. He was well known and had “discovered” our country, and it was probably a lot more politically “correct” than calling the holiday “Italian Day.”
Nevertheless, as I write about Columbus Day, it brings to mind the only other American holiday named after a person. That is of course the Martin Luther King Holiday. By no means do I intend to compare the merits of the Martin Luther King Holiday to Columbus Day, but in my gut I believe that both holidays were created as an apology to the races wherein the United States created laws intended to intentionally discrimination against a race of people. If my theory has any merit we will someday as a country have Asian Day, Mexican American Day, Muslim Day and any host of other holidays as an apology for how as a Nation we have treated some of our fellow Americans.
The history of our country is riddled with slavery, racial genocide, racism, gender discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, religious intolerance as well as a host of others that I have not listed.
But as I write this blog, I too have a dream. I dream that someday there will come a time when all Americans regardless of race or origin will simply call ourselves Americans and let go of all those prefixes that separate us as a people and as a country. I hope that I live to see that day because I love this country and wouldn’t really want to live anywhere else, so God Bless America.
The Addict Writes