By Daniel Fan
It’s come to my attention that this venerable holiday is falling out of favor with the general American populace. In fact, it’s as if Americans are somewhat embarrassed of Columbus Day.
Unless you’re a Federal employee, bank worker, or rapid sale shopper, you probably didn’t even know that today, October 11th, was set aside to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ “Discovery” of the new world.
If you would have talked to me ten years ago, I would have said that this relegation of the inauguration of American Discovery to the backwater dustbin of 30%-off-sales was a good thing. But now, I’m not so sure that the non-issuing of Columbus Day is such a good thing. After all, commemorating and celebrating are two separate things.
Not very many Americans who were around to see 9/11 would be minimize the importance of that date. We don’t celebrate it, but we do remember and reflect (hopefully) on the loss incurred, and the ramifications it has had for our country and Western civilization as a whole. In many ways Columbus’ actions and subsequent popular revelation of the Americas had greater and more tragic ramifications for more people, for a longer period of time than 9/11.
There are those that live in colonized places that have no need for a special day to think about how they’re affected by Columbus and Discovery. My words aren’t directed at them. I’m addressing those of us, who, for better or worse, have successfully integrated into the colonial society and “have it good.” For us, Columbus Day should be a time to reflect, not so much on Columbus the person, but on the act and subsequent doctrine of Discovery and the affects its had on our paths and the paths chosen for our respective communities.
The original intent of this Memorial Day was to be a time to remember and honor the fallen who gave their lives to protect America. I would submit that Columbus Day (until we come up with a better name for it?) is an equally good time to read up on the history of indigenous peoples and their colonization, visit places like Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Iolani Palace, etc and even speak with those whose encounters with post-Discovery colonialism are not memories but daily recurrences (at least more vivid than our own). Let’s not celebrate the cultural destruction and colonization of our ancestors by contributing to the continuation of a capitalistic exploitation of other indigenous peoples, just to save 30%.
To forget Columbus’ “discovery” and the tragic events that followed is to be that much more a part of the colonial machine that oppresses indigenous peoples around the world. Going along with burying the past actually serves the colonizers, perhaps even better than celebrating Discovery openly. For us, 10/11 should be cause for neither celebration nor embarrassed concealment of the past, but rather a time of commemoration, reflection and a chance to rebuild the communities so devastated by the acts that followed the very first Columbus Day. (End)
“All these lands are densely populated with the best people under the sun: they have neither ill-will nor treachery.”
–Christopher Columbus, 1493
“As for the vast mainland…we are sure that our Spaniards, with their cruel and abominable acts, have devastated the land and exterminated the rational people who fully inhabited it. We can estimate very surely and truthfully that in the forty years that have passed, with the infernal actions of the Christians, there have been unjustly slain more than twelve million men, women, and children. In truth, I believe without trying to deceive myself that the number of the slain is more like fifteen million.” -Devastation of the Indies, (pp 30-31), Father Bartolomé de Las Casas