Columbus Day: Never Forget?

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

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5 Responses to Columbus Day: Never Forget?

  1. ethnicspace says:

    Gabriel,

    I’m a bit thrown off by your post. You speak the poetic language of metaphor but you demand prescriptive steps to “progress.” Please consider the possibility that truth is important in whatever form it takes. Sometimes it is a journey and a narrative that organically migrates into praxis. Sometimes it is propositional and “seemingly” clear cut and “cut to the chase.” I would guess that someone such as yourself, who seems to be fluent in both forms of communication, would appreciate the fact that every person gets to state their perspective from within their own framework. So I ask you honestly, is there another agenda that you are perhaps unknowingly concealing? What is it that really bothers you about these type posts?

  2. Bo says:

    Daniel, I really appreciate your thoughts here.

    Today I was standing in line at LA County DMV for hours. It was interesting to be there on Columbus Day. I was the part of a small minority (2% maybe) of those in line or in the waiting room who were obviously white.

    The ironic part was when I finally got inside and waited for my number to come up. I was reading a book call “Theology and Philosophy” (don’t laugh) and after a long while in Europe I got to a part where the author said :
    “… the ultimate political idea emerging from the enlightenment is a radical egalitarianism, a respect for the human individual, and a respect for people with differing views… as often as not, what the Enlightenment delivered was imperialism and not egalitarianism.”

    then it went on to detail the genocide upon the native peoples of north and south America and lay out the lasting impact on the indigenous peoples of the western world.

    I came home to find your blog. It was challenging. I just wanted to thank you for your thoughts (in this post and last week’s) and let you know that I you are being heard.

  3. Art Brokop II says:

    My wife teaches on the Navajo Rez and we talk about and she often looks at the children and reflects “They tried to distroy them but they are here they are here “. The policies and rogue bigotry burning like a fire for 500 years I often think and hope and pray (even with the wholesale destruction) can serve as refining. Moreover, the tempering would form a fine steal to be used by Creator/Yahweh for battle for His kingdom and the words spoken would be as fine gold and silver for ears to be enriched by truth and the fear of Yahweh – let us reflect….

  4. Daniel Fan says:

    Bo:

    Thanks for that response. Your mention of the conflicting ideals and results of the enlightenment are timely.

    To me, a strange duality emerged from that period, one of conversion and dehumanization. While radical and perhaps universal egalitarianism might have been an Enlightenment ideal, it certainly would have been an inconvenience on the road to empire. And so the need to strip indigenous peoples of their Imago Dei, and define them as less than human in order to justify their exploitation/extermination. But at the same time there was a need to religiously convert them to Christianity. This conversion process was even explicitly professed as a tool of empire (and recognized as such both by “evangelists” like David Livingston and more secular colonial apologists). Ironically, even after conversion, equality was rarely, if ever granted (some were apparently more Imago Dei than others).

    Perhaps I am being overly simplistic but I find the inclusion of the competing impulses of religious conversion and dehumanization, under a single colonial agenda, comical. I mean, why bother with both unless you are unsure of either? If you want to start an empire, at least decide whether your idealized world should be a zoo or a church, because building a church in your zoo just demonstrates a certain lack of commitment.

  5. ethnicspace says:

    zoo or a church…what a way to put it…Thanks Daniel…

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