The NYC Department of Education now celebrates “Columbus Day” as Italian Heritage Day / Indigenous Peoples Day. The US national holiday is still called “Columbus Day.” We fully support changing the name of the day, but it will take an act of Congress to change it.
The Origin of Columbus Day
The US celebration was founded to stop the lynching of Italian Americans by white supremacist Confederate Southerners.
After the US Civil War (1860-1865), many Italians who migrated to the United States came from Southern Italy. It’s only 100 miles from Africa so Italians were comfortable with mixing. They took work that had formerly been done by the African Diaspora, lived in and married into African communities. They became targets by association.
American racism is so violent that it is difficult for many of us to fully comprehend ~ unless you are on the receiving end. Lynchings, murders, rapes, maimings, burnings – you cannot process the inhumanity – even against women and children, continuously and for no reason at all. People don’t want to talk about it, but it is our American history. This nonsense stills devils American life.
There was a lynching of Italian Americans that became an international incident. The U.S. even paid reparations to Italy. Hoping to calm things down, the U.S. government started Columbus Day to send the message that Italians are Americans too. It worked. Italians went from being considered “others” to just being Americans. That’s why the Italian American community holds so tightly to Columbus.
Back then the scholarship about the evil of Columbus himself, and the evil he unleashed on the world was not general knowledge. We were taught colonial fairy tales, but now you can’t say you didn’t know.
Columbus Unleashed a Pandemic, Genocide, and The Atlantic Slave Trade
Most Latin Americans reject Columbus because he unleashed a multi-dimensional Indigenous genocide that began with an pandemic with a 95% death rate. The COVID death rate is around 3%. For perspective imagine that everyone who died of Covid is alive, but all of us now living are dead. It happened in about a year. Can you imagine the shock of being the 1 in 20 who survived?
We are taught that Indigenous Peoples just gave up and died, but actually they were worked to death in slave labor camps by the colonizers. When there were no Indigenous workers left, the Europeans began kidnapping and enslaving Africans, and worked them to death too.
Christopher Columbus Was Personally an Evil Man
It turns out that Christopher Columbus was himself an evil man. He tried to start the TransAtlantic Slave Trade by selling Indigenous Taíno in Spain. It didn’t work, but that was the beginning of this mess.
After his voyages, Columbus was so infamous for the maltreatment of Indigenous peoples that his own Spanish sponsors called him back to Spain, jailed him, stripped his power, and put him on trial. He had brought them such riches that the Spaniards eventually let him go, but never let him have power again. Those were his own sponsors.
Even the “Discovery” Was Based on a Lie
Columbus Day commemorates the day around October 12, 1492 when the expedition of Christopher Columbus sighted land in what is now the Bahamas.
But even that pivotal moment was based on a lie. A lookout sighted land first. But to claim a reward, Columbus lied and said he saw land first, but didn’t report it. True to form, Columbus was a thief.
Indigenous Peoples Saved the Columbus Expedition
When Columbus encountered the Indigenous Taíno in the Bahamas, he and his crew were lost and going to die. The Taíno helped them survive.
The Spaniards asked for gold. The Taíno showed them where it was and said they could take whatever they wanted. Columbus and his relatives repaid this kindness by enslaving the Taíno. If you didn’t provide enough gold to the Spanish colonizers, they cut off your arm. Eventually the free gold ran out. Ouch!
Conquistadors were Common Criminals
Conquistador where worse than common criminals. They only conquered by betraying their hosts. They are nothing to be proud of.
These statues of evil men are everywhere in town plazas across the Americas (including New York City). Columbus statues usually point to Spain. The only consolation is that they are bird toilets. What a metaphor.
Why would anyone attach themselves to such a flawed character who stands for unspeakable crimes against humanity? We can do better.