A Day of Reckoning
Columbus Day is a federal holiday in the United States. This annual holiday is celebrated on the second Monday in October, and it marks the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World. But the celebration has always been controversial. In the early 19th century, anti-immigrant groups refused to celebrate the day due to its Catholic associations. Some of these groups claimed that Italians were not white. Today, many Italian Americans view the holiday as a way to honor their heritage. However, the fact remains that Columbus’s arrival in the New World did not create any positive outcomes for the native population.
During the 19th century, European colonizers were able to decimate the indigenous populations of the Americas. They brought disease, smallpox, and enslaved people to the new world. Their actions left behind scars. While the explorers may have sailed the oceans, they did not explore the lands and cultures of the American Indians.
The real story of how Columbus found America is less about heroism and more about human rights abuse. Native Americans were raped, killed, and enslaved, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives. Many Indigenous people continue to feel that the Italian explorer was no hero.
A recent movement to remove monuments to historical figures involved in slavery and colonialism has spawned a global reckoning. For example, several cities in the UK have already removed their Columbus monuments, while monuments to historical figures in the United States and Canada are in the process of being torn down.
As of October 2017, a number of cities and states have already embraced the idea of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of the more conventional Columbus Day. This year, the Baltimore City Council passed a bill to change the name of the day, a move that some say is the first step in taking a look at the role of the Italian explorer in the US. Several other municipalities are also preparing to take the plunge.
One city that has been a leader in this effort is Boston. Mayor Michael Brown has spoken out against the blatantly obvious omission of Indigenous Peoples’ Day from the calendar, and has called for the removal of Columbus-related statues and monuments in the city’s North End neighborhood. Meanwhile, in Chicago, a group known as Indigenous Strong has been pushing for the abolition of the holiday.
Other cities have shown the same interest. For instance, the Philadelphia City Council approved a bill that would rename Columbus Day to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” Atlanta is considering the same. Minneapolis recently toppled its own Columbus monument after a large crowd of protesters showed up to the city’s Arrigo Park. Even Atlantic City, the site of a large statue of the explorer, is preparing to remove it.
Despite the various attempts at reform, the era of Columbus Day will probably never end. However, in the meantime, it is worth considering how Columbus’s voyage impacted the lives of Indigenous people.