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Happy (?) Columbus Day

Today is Columbus Day, which — despite the dramatic and deserved downgrade in Christopher Columbus’ standing as a historical hero — remains one of just 10 federal holidays.

Oct. 12, 1492 was the day that the first Atlantic crossing by Columbus (note: he never called himself Christopher Columbus) sighted land (it was an island in the Bahamas) in what for centuries was described as the “discovery” of the “New World.” So the Monday closest to that date is a day off for federal employees but not too many of the rest of us.

Back in my Strib days — in fact on the 1992 quincentennial of the Columbian first voyage– my misguided but well-intentioned editors gave me leave to write a monstrous-long review of the not-so-glorified version of the story. I boiled that version down to a long-but-perhaps-not-monstrously-so version and posted it on ericblackink in my early post-Strib days when blackink was affiliated with the Minnesota Monitor. And today, as I did last year on Columbus Day, I offer a link to that version with a warning that it contains material that some viewers may find disturbing.

It has some stuff in it that you may not know about the man for whom the District of Columbia, Columbia University, the capital of Ohio, possibly the capital of Sri Lanka (there seems to be some dispute) and a great many other things have been named.

If you would like to see how President Obama steered his way between the Scylla of Columbus worship and the Charybdis of Columbus-bashing, his annual proclamation on the occasion of Columbus Day is here.

And if you do click through to my Columbus piece and want to comment on it, please come back here to do so.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/10/2011 - 12:00 pm.

    A good piece on Columbus, Eric.

    Columbus Day has been – at least for the 12 years I lived in Colorado – a constant source of contention in Denver. Despite the fact that Italy didn’t exist as a nation when Columbus was wrecking ships and proving himself inept as a colonial governor, Denver’s Italian-American community holds a parade every year in his honor.

    Meanwhile, Colorado’s (and especially Denver’s) Indian population, the descendants, if you’ll allow me to broaden the term quite a bit metaphorically, of the people whose hands got cut off because they didn’t bring Columbus any gold, usually get more than a little upset, and protest the parade. Most of the time, it all happens peacefully, but not always.

    What gets lost in the rhetorical shuffle of insisting that Italian-Americans have the right to have a parade, and that Colorado’s Indians have a right not to be enthused about how their ancestors were treated by the invaders, is the rather important matter of just who employed Columbus to make his explorations. This is important because the Hispanic community in Denver typically supports the Indians, who, to my continued surprise, welcome the support. Apparently, no one tells anyone that it’s the Spanish whose depredations wiped out millions of Indians.

    I understand that a minority group might want to support another minority group protesting a historical injustice, but it’s always struck me as more than a little ironic that Indians would welcome Hispanic support for their demonstrations against a parade honoring an explorer from Genoa who worked for the Spanish, whose descendants are now helping the Indians protest the Spanish….

  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/10/2011 - 01:33 pm.

    It’s well past the time to retire Columbus Day, for many reasons, though I suppose it would be as contentious as repealing the Second Amendment for some.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/10/2011 - 01:38 pm.

    But of course most Hispanics have at least some Native American ancestry.
    Just to muddy it up a bit more 😉

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/10/2011 - 02:15 pm.

    @Ray: The term Hispanic, like Latino, is prety fluid. Whichever term one uses to describe people of Latin American origin, the fact is that the majority are of mixed descent, a blending of Spanish and indigenous ancestry. Many Latin America socities fall out along these blood lines: the greater the Spanish ancestry, the more likely one is to have some economic standing. Immigrants more often come from the less advantaged classes. It’s not surprising, then, that those of Latin American descent here in some parts of the States might identify more with the travails of their indigenous ancestors than their European ancestors.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/10/2011 - 04:49 pm.

    And of course Hispanics with more Spanish ancestry tend to have lighter skins.

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