Monday, October 09, 2006

The Controversy Of The Day

Even though today is a legal federal holiday, a number of folks are unhappy that Columbus Day even exists. Some would like to replace it with a "Native American Day:"
BALTIMORE - During Columbus Day ceremonies today you probably won’t hear Christopher Columbus’ description of the slave trade in the West Indies following his landfall there 514 years ago.

In a letter to a friend referring to the European colonists’ enslavement of islanders, Columbus wrote in 1500 that it was easy to obtain native women cheaply, noting that “there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from [ages] 9 to 10 are now in demand ... ”

This doesn’t sound like the heroic Christopher Columbus we studied in grade school. So why exactly have we, as a nation, celebrated this man with a federal holiday every second Monday in October since 1971?

Do we honor Columbus for urging his patrons, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, to enslave Caribbean residents for profit?

Indeed, Columbus did more than recommend slavery; he was the pioneer of slavery in the New World. He launched a slave trade with Spain of West Indies’ peoples.

Certainly we do not commemorate Columbus’ shameful journey in shackles back to Spain to answer for his mismanagement of the Spanish colonies, including abuse leading to the decimation of native populations, particularly on the island of Hispaniola, now home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

His administration established a quota-based labor system that forced natives to forgo cultivating food to search for the island’s scarce native gold.

Administrators chopped off the hands of natives who failed to turn in their gold quotas.

Given Columbus’ historical record of exploitation and abuse of native peoples, there is no reason to observe Columbus Day. Let’s kick Columbus off the national calendar.

Perhaps you protest that Columbus Day celebrates Columbus’ achievements as the great explorer who discovered the New World (not new to the people already living there), the bold hero who, in 1492, boldly sailed west through largely uncharted waters in pursuit of a lucrative westward ocean trade route to Asia.

Remember that Columbus himself never claimed to discover a New World, only a shortcut to Asia. And his navigational calculations were flawed, to say the least.

By greatly underestimating the earth’s circumference, he figured Japan to be about 7,000 to 8,000 miles closer to Europe than it actually is.

If the vast American continent and contiguous islands hadn’t blocked his route, Columbus and his sailors may never have safely reached land.

Still, Columbus’ historical importance is indisputable. His daring and ingenious use of dead-reckoning navigation through largely uncharted waters forever transformed our world by linking then still-medieval Europe with the American hemisphere.

But even without his personal U.S. holiday, Columbus is overloaded with honors. At least 47 U.S. municipalities and counties are named after Columbus, including the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia, as well as numerous organizations and institutions. Even an entire nation, Colombia, bears his name.

It may be too late to change place names like the District of Columbia, but Columbus’ injustice and cruelty toward his fellow human beings — all for his pursuit of profit and glory — disqualifies him from being honored by us each year with a federal holiday.

Worried that eliminating Columbus Day will create a gap in the federal holiday schedule? Then let’s replace it with a new one: Native American Day.
Our schools here in California's so-called "Imperial" Valley have never closed in observance of Columbus Day.

There is quite a bit of talk, however, of closing them in order to commemorate the more politically "correct"
Cesar Chavez' birthday.
See our latest EduPosts here and this date's Extra Credit Reading there.