October 12, 2015, is Columbus Day in the United States. Over the years, more and more people have been wondering why we celebrate Columbus Day in the United States. It is clear that Christopher Columbus did not discover America, yet we celebrate as if he did. In fact, how could he have discovered a land where millions of people were already making a life for themselves? The indigenous people who lived in the areas that Christopher Columbus “discovered” had lived there for over 15,000 years before the birth of Columbus.
We also have learned that Columbus was not the kind person portrayed in history books. Why do we celebrate Columbus Day, and why is Columbus surrounded by controversy?
As a people, we are becoming more and more tolerant of other races and cultures. It is this tolerance that has forced us to take a hard look at the conquistador explorers like Columbus. Everyone knows the story by now.
“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Christopher Columbus was convinced that the Earth was round. Many in his day thought he was insane for his belief. Columbus felt that if he sailed west, he would reach the east and find a new trade route to India. Columbus set off on his voyage with the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. When they came across land, Columbus believed he had found India and proved his case. What he found were the islands we now know are in the Carribean Sea. These islands were not uninhabited. The natives that Columbus came across were quickly taken as slaves or killed in a genocide by Columbus. Bartolomé de las Casas, a priest and contemporary of Columbus, kept a journal about his time with Columbus. One of the excerpts from his writings showed just how evil Christopher Columbus actually was.
“While I was in Cuba, 7,000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation… in this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk.”
Historian William Fowler believes that Columbus himself should not be blamed for the crimes he committed against the natives he slaughtered. His contention is that Columbus was a product of the times in which he lived. During the age of exploration, European explorers believed they had the right to do whatever they wanted to when they “discovered” a new part of Earth.
“I think, as we reflect on that and the cost to native peoples here in this world, the damage that was done, I think that sort of mellows the way we might be thinking about Columbus, not suggesting we blame him individually. I don’t think that’s correct. He was a man of his times. But there was great evil that was done when the Europeans came. Today, perhaps, we think of discovery. We might also think of the word, invasion, and the result of that. Much good has happened, clearly, but much evil happened, as well.”
Will we see a time in the future in which Columbus Day is removed from the calendar? Will that day be replaced with a name of another person who did positive things in the world so we can celebrate that person? The debate rages every year from people who are on both sides of the issue. Both groups have valid arguments, but it seems the tide is turning towards getting rid of Columbus Day.
What are your thoughts on Columbus Day? Do you think Christopher Columbus should be celebrated or vilified?
[Images via Serialoptimist.com/Totallyhistory.com/Oceanexplorer.noaa.gov]