Celebrating Columbus Day: What The Holiday Represents

Celebrating Columbus Day: What The Holiday Represents

Hadi Alim, Editor-in-Chief

Christopher Columbus is an age-old American hero. In American schools, he is taught to have discovered America itself. Although a quick Google search can debunk this, why does American celebrate Christopher Columbus Day?

To begin with, Christopher Columbus was an Italian sailor who worked with the Portuguese as a merchant marine. The Portuguese were colonizing nearby islands, trading with the African coast, and found a sea passage to India around the African continent. Columbus, however, had bigger dreams. He believed in the Small Earth Theory. Most people at the time knew that the Earth wasn’t flat, as historian Jeffrey Burton Russell says, “no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the Earth was flat.” Although no one believed the Earth was flat, they believed there was an ocean that stretched from the coast of Europe and Africa to East Asia. No one dared to cross it because the journey was far too long and people often died before returning back. Columbus believed that the Earth was smaller than it actually was, so he asked the crown for a fleet of ships to explore the waters to the west. The King of Portugal refused to give Columbus a grant to cross the ocean so he went to Spain. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand had recently gained control of Spain from the Moors, so they weren’t fabulously wealthy like the Portuguese, but instead, they took a chance on Columbus since they could use the money trade to Asia.

Columbus took three ships across the ocean. He had a ship full of diverse Spanish explorers, even Jewish sailors who would otherwise have been exiled from Spain. His expert team helped him navigate across the ocean. Once they reached the island of Haiti, renamed Hispaniola by Columbus, they started meeting Indigenous peoples who had never had contact with Europeans or any Old World peoples before. Columbus called them Indians because that was what Europeans thought of when they talked about Asia. When he saw the Taino peoples wearing gold jewelry, Columbus exaggerated the amount of gold he found on the island to the King and Queen of Spain. With that, he started a campaign to rob the Natives of all their gold and valuables. When they couldn’t supply him with enough gold, he would chop their hands off. He also sold young girls, some as young as 9, into sex slavery. He raped and killed the natives of Haiti so much that the King and Queen sent an administrator to put him on trial. While on trial, he was found guilty and was forced back to Spain. The crown punished him by forbidding him to return to the island of Hispaniola, however, he did sail back around the Caribbean and northern South American. He died at the age of 55, alone, in Spain.

So how did Columbus become an American hero if he committed such war crimes and atrocities? In the early 20th century, immigrant groups such as Italians, Irish, Hispanics, and Catholics were discriminated against and had lower stature in society. At the same time, Americans were also looking for a national hero who wasn’t inherently of British origin but American. Columbus was the solution. Majority of Italian interest groups lobbied for the establishment of Columbus day as a national Holiday. Columbus was drawn out to be just another immigrant who discovered the whole of American, hence a true American hero. Eventually in 1937 Columbus Day was passed as a National Holiday in the United States.

Considering the dark history of the origins of Columbus, Indigenous Peoples day is an alternative to celebrating Columbus Day.  In this reporter’s opinion, celebrating the cultures of a great people long since removed seems like a better celebration of the founding of America.