Re-remembering Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day
Spare me the Columbus Day parades.
On Oct. 12, many people in this country will praise the explorer for “discovering” this side of the Atlantic while ignoring the darker truth of his infamous 1492 voyage.
Schoolchildren will make milk carton ships, older students will trace the Spanish explorer’s rout, and in some cities people will flock to parades — all of this to honor the man responsible for opening up the “new” world for trade and immigration.
But if we are to truthfully recall the memory of the man, we cannot leave out the other story of his journey: atrocities against indigenous island people that Christopher Columbus and his crew inflicted when they arrived on Caribbean shores. And we cannot dismiss Columbus’ opening this continent up to future generations of colonialism, genocide and land theft from Native American people.
Columbus did not come in peace. He came with guns and chains. He came to conquer.
Yes, Columbus Day would be a real downer of a holiday if the whole story of the explorer’s exploits were given equal time.
Imagine a parade float of actors playing Taino Indians being tortured.
Imagine standing around the office water cooler attempting to fathom how an entire race of indigenous people was almost wiped out by European diseases, assimilation and famine.
And imagine trying to teach grade school children how to draw the same Taino Indian in chains — waiting to be boarded like cattle aboard a Spanish ship.
This all might seem to be an absurd, unflattering way to celebrate one of history’s most mythic explorers. But if the success of Columbus was built on subjugation and slavery, how can we justify honoring his memory?
A number of people, including many Native Americans, believe we should stop celebrating Columbus Day because there can be no reconciliation between his triumphs and his crimes.
But I believe we should keep Columbus’ memory alive. This day should serve as an opportunity to stir discussion that includes his dark legacy.
Coming to terms with our past should do more than prevent us from repeating it. It should help us get over it.
As a nation, we need to gain enough distance from our history of colonialism to move forward peacefully and treat other peoples respectfully.
Our insistence on honoring Christopher Columbus with ticker tape only makes that journey longer and more difficult.
Mark Anthony Rolo is an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. He can be reached at pmproj [at] progressive [dot] org.
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