In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The story is an old one. His “discovery” of America was a defining event in the history of Europe, America and, consequently, the world.
When Columbus came to what we know as America, he encountered vibrant cultures and peoples — and promptly enslaved them. His brutal arrival and conquest and the arrival of the conquistadores who came after him, led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples. His arrival marked the beginning of the end for these civilizations.
Columbus, upon landing in the Caribbean, wrote that the people would make good slaves, and he quickly went to work enslaving them. He was given governorship of the island of Hispaniola, which comprises modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
This island and the island of Puerto Rico were inhabited by a people known as the Taíno.
The Taíno people gave us the words “hammock” and “barbecue,” among others. The Taíno name of Puerto Rico, “Borikén,” is the root of the label “Boricua,” which many Puerto Ricans use to identify themselves.
Columbus personally enslaved these people and massacred those who resisted Spanish hegemony, causing them to go from a thriving island culture to a footnote of history.
A man who murders an entire ethnic group of people does not deserve a holiday, or national recognition of his work.
It is often argued that history is better off because of the “progress” European colonists made in the Americas. This is debatable, but at the end of the day, we have no idea how the world would look had Columbus never stepped foot off the European coastline. What we do know is that the Spanish Empire pillaged the area, committed acts of genocide and set up a caste system with African and indigenous people at the bottom and Europeans at the top.
After Columbus and the Spanish pushed into America, other European empires came to the region and did essentially the same thing. Settlers forced indigenous people off their land, and eventually the United States marched them into reservations.
Today, America’s indigenous peoples are arguably still fighting against a system that disadvantages them, from Canada to the southern cone of Latin America. There is a struggle, especially in the era of global relations, to protect their languages and cultures.
They are stereotyped and caricatured- the Washington Redskins use a racial slur and racist picture of a native person as a literal mascot, to the denunciation of tribal leaders. Native religious items are sold as decor to the highest bidder, and native beliefs are considered primitive.
In the United States alone, Native American poverty is well-documented and is even higher than that of other racial and ethnic minorities. It is important to note that, according to census data, only 1.7 percent of the population (5.2 million people) identify as Native American or Alaska Native.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012 about one in four Native Americans lived in poverty. One in three people identifying as Native American or Alaska Native still live on reservations.
The exploitation of indigenous people has not been rectified, and activists are still trying to bring awareness to the plight of their people.
Celebrating Columbus’ arrival isn’t just offensive to the “socially conscious” hippies of America; it is offensive to the millions of Native Americans in the United States and the millions of indigenous people throughout the continent. It is celebrating the European colonization of the Americas and their continuing social marginalization within American societies. This is our brutal past, and while it must be understood within the context of the time period, it must also not be celebrated with a holiday for the very man who brought about this situation.
We should not create a false narrative that the Europeans were horrible people and the indigenous conformed to the “noble savage” stereotype. Native Americans warred with each other, murdered innocent people and committed heinous atrocities. That does not in any way excuse the genocide of these peoples by the European colonial powers.
Columbus is virtually the mascot for this genocide. He does not need a holiday to recognize a historical event. Instead, it should be a day to honor indigenous customs and culture, especially as Native Americans still face large hurdles and are underrepresented within society. We should use this day to celebrate the contributions of indigenous American people, not the colonization of the Americas by Europe.