Columbus Day celebrations have taken place in the United States for over a century. The original celebration took place in response to the lynching of Italian immigrants in New Orleans and was seen as a kind of a national mea culpa as well as a way to affirm the citizenship. Parenthetically, one might ask how many black people need to be lynched and killed by police before the citizenship of black Americans will be affirmed – but we digress.
It is not clear why Christopher Columbus was chosen as the focus of celebration by our Italian American brothers and sisters. At the latter part of the 19th century other subjects of pride were widely known – men such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, thought to be the father of modern Italy, or Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor and pioneer of wireless transmission or the legendary opera composer Giuseppe Verdi.
Instead, Christopher Columbus was chosen, a man around whom a myth would literally be invented. This is a myth that serves to mask the race-based conquest and genocide that is the true legacy of all residents of the Western Hemisphere. This is a myth that serves to distract from the crimes against humanity that haunt all of this to this very day.
Consider the breathtaking scope of the lies and untruths that surround the Christopher Columbus myth. First and foremost, there is no logic, except a racist perversion of the facts that Columbus “discovered” America. How is it possible to discover a land where tens of millions of people had been living for thousands of years? Only a Eurocentric white supremacist vision of history could sustain the logic that Columbus “discovered” anything in the Western Hemisphere.
If one wishes to put a fig leaf on this non-myth and state that he was the first European to arrive in the Western Hemisphere —- that would be untrue as well. Historians agree that the Viking settlements in what is now Newfoundland predate the arrival of Columbus by several centuries.
And then, there is the larger issue as to what is being celebrated. The arrival of Columbus was the vanguard of a virtual deluge of European invasion of the Western Hemisphere bringing disease, death and cultural annihilation to the indigenous people. Celebrating Columbus means celebrating the beginning of genocide so vast and so profound that it is literally beyond calculation – there are no more Arawaks, or Tainos, or Aztecs or Incas or Caribs, the list is sadly endless – thanks to the invasion begun by Columbus.
And let us not forget that Columbus was also the vanguard of the most massive slave empire in the history of the planet. Beginning in 1492, Europeans who not satisfied with conquering and killing and stealing the land of the indigenous people began the African slave trade which devastated the African continent and established a race-based society and mindset that has lasted to this very day.
So when it comes to Christopher Columbus, there really is nothing to celebrate. Again, if the day is to be about the celebration of Italian heritage, there are many candidates, any of whom have a more glorious legacy and have left a more honorable heritage than Columbus.
Sad to say, there will be many who will wish to cling to this myth, just as they cling to the myth that the leaders of the slaveholding Confederacy were good and honorable men. Just as there are those who will cling to the myth that Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe were honorable men even though they owned and bought and sold human being during their entire adult lives.
There is no way to change the past. There is no way to forget the past. There is no way to forgive the past. But there should be no way that we should countenance the celebration of myths and fairy tales that disguise and mythologize the past. Participation in the desecration of the memory of the victims is also a great crime – but one that can be corrected.
It is time to end Columbus Day.