This day honors the "discovery" of America but forgets conquistadors wiped as much as 95% of native populations.
Columbus day, celebrated on October 12th, commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World in 1492. It’s been unofficially celebrated since the eighteenth century and became an official holiday in the US since 1937.
Paul Ratner is a writer and filmmaker. He wrote a piece for BigThink saying the day should rather be renamed or abolished. He says idolizing any human is complicated as they hardly live up to the myths about them. In the case of Christopher Columbus, Ratner says the day celebrates him as well as the “brutal colonialism” and “near extermination” of an entire group of people that lived in the Americas before the European arrived.
According to a study published in Science Magazine, by the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, an estimated of 54 million people already lived and had societies in the Americas. Ratner argues celebrating the “discovery” of the Americas relegates these people to non-existence. Also, conquistadors are believed to have caused the death to as much as 95% of the native population, through war and epidemic diseases. The author believes celebrating Columbus is a disrespect to both today’s Native Americans and their ancestors.
Following this belief, opposition to Columbus day dates back to the nineteenth century when anti-immigrant groups rejected the holiday because of its association with the Catholic church. In recent decades, Native American groups have protested because the day celebrated indirectly resulted in the death of millions. More so, Columbus heroism has been put into question as evidence suggests the explorer imposed barbaric forms of punishment and forced native people into slavery.
Many Latin American nations have traditionally celebrated the day of Columbus arrival as “Día de la raza,” (Day of the Race), a celebration of Hispanic culture’s diversity. In 2002 Venezuela renamed the holiday into “Day of the Indigenous Resistance” to recognize indigenous peoples and their experiences. Also several US cities and states have replaced Columbus day with alternatives like Berkley’s “Indigenous Peoples Day,” South Dakota’s “Native American Day” and Hawaii’s “Discoverer’s Day,” which commemorates the arrival of Polynesian settlers.
The day has also evolved into a celebration of Italian-American heritage. Local groups hosts parades and street fair. Also, indigenous peoples are honored and traditional dance and lessons about Native American culture are common.
Despite Ratner’s call to abolish the day, today’s society itself has come to change the meaning of the commemoration. As Latin American countries have done, changing the name and celebrating their diversity both remembers the victims of colonization and the cultural heritage that remains after the arrival of the Europeans.