Fuck Columbus Day.
After randomly selecting names from a hat in my 5th-grade social studies class, ten-year-old me discovered she had to play Christopher Columbus for the “explorers of the world” class. I remembered feeling overjoyed because everyone knew Columbus’ story, and everyone in the class envied me for getting Columbus (which was a bonus). I remember costume shopping with my mother and pouring chai on my notes to make them look periodic. My mother sat in the living room folding laundry as I practiced for hours “my Columbus act.” One could say that this performance sparked my interest in public speaking, however, I felt disgusted several years after it.
My teacher gave me an A+ on my presentation. My presentation was so good that she recorded it for future reference (I hope that tape went missing). During my presentation, I talked about how I, Columbus, was a hero. I’d discovered America, found a new race, and made friends with the “less fortunate.” I founded America – this was America’s great origin story. After that presentation, Columbus became a distant memory. In middle school, we did not discuss him ever again. However, he reappeared during my 11th-grade American History Class.
Our teacher assigned a reading that described the lies of Columbus Day. After reading it, I was enraged. Now, I wasn’t completely oblivious to the horror of America’s founding. Throughout the years, we briefly discussed slavery and Native American massacres. We talked about the violence and racism but assumed it all ended when Jim Crow was abolished. I knew that Native Americans were called “savages” and African Americans were forced into this country. But, hey, that was history. Nothing I could do about it. Briefly learning about it was enough to say I am educated on matters regarding racism. Instead, we spent the majority of our time discussing the Holocaust. Months were dedicated to the horrors of concertation camps, but a day was spent on Japanese Concertation Camps located in the United States. I never thought much about how my school taught history until the 11th grade. I realized that I wasn’t angry about the lies told about Columbus Day. Rather, I felt betrayed. I thought back to my 5th-grade social studies presentation. I played Columbus as a hero – not a racist, crazy man seeking glory. I thought:
How could my teacher lie to me? Why did she let praise a man who stood for everything I fight against? Columbus raped and killed several innocent people. He called Native Americans “Indians” because he assumed that he made it to India. We still called them Indians. European Colonizers took their land but framed it as fair trade. They gave them diseases but framed it as a lack of scientific advancement. Missionaries were heroes, and Native Americans needed saving. How dare you!
Since then, I’ve never celebrated Columbus Day . In college, the lies about the holiday came up again. I remember my entire class feeling betrayed, but I already knew this. I offered to work on Columbus Day to protest this day; I shared articles about Indigenous People and their rights; and, I never praised the horrible man who created permeant damage. Then a thought hit me: we lie to everyone about this man, but for what? Almost every child in America will be told the origin story of our country. They will be told that Christopher Columbus is a hero. Then, several years later, they will be told the ugly truth.
Natives Discovered a Lost Columbus.
In 1492, Native Americans discovered a man named Christopher Columbus who thought he made it to India. Columbus sought a shorter route to India. He was reluctantly given a chance to find a route, but he never made it. He landed first in the Bahamas, then to now Hispaniola (So, he didn’t land first in America). Columbus took one look at the natives’ brown skin and exclaimed, “INDIANS!” (I am not sure how many times I have to say this, but…not all brown people are the same. I am just throwing that idea out there for those who thought they were all the same.) The journey to “India” was self-serving: to obtain riches. To acquire the riches, Columbus and most of his explorers followed him across the ocean massacring the natives they “discovered.” He raped, slaughtered, and contributed to the slave trade. His selfish motives were only enhanced by his untreated mental illnesses and drug addiction. Fueled with power, he normalized racism. And, by celebrating him, we only cement that racism.
In 2018, an eight-year-old student opposed his teacher’s traditional teachings about Columbus. While the teacher credited the historic figure for “finding” America, the young student disagreed. He stated, “[Columbus] didn’t find our country, the Indians did.” The student’s mother shared the true origins of America with her son before that class. The student said, “It’s important to tell the truth because the world should be full of trust and love. Some things that I may not feel comfortable saying I can now say with more courage and to know that I will be supported.” From a teaching perspective, Columbus’ journey to the “New World” is important. However, the problem arises when our educators sweep the ugliness under the rug. For some reason, we cannot simply state that his journey was important, but how he achieved those means wasn’t cool; his journey had consequences that caused great damage that we’re still fixing. He destroyed an entire people and their culture. This is something we shouldn’t glorify or lie about. However, that eight-year old’s comment demonstrates that children prefer the truth over covering up awfulness. The more we shield our children from learning about the awfulness in the world, the more harm we are causing them. By doing so, we encourage ignorance and selfishness. (So, why are we still lying to them?)
Indigenous People Day.
I am no expert in Native American studies. I only know the basics about their culture, but I haven’t had a chance to learn everything about the horrors they faced. Or, what their life was like before colonization. Today, in writing, I promise to learn more about their culture and history; an opportunity I was denied throughout my education. If you all have any recommendations, please contact me!
That’s all for now. Stay tuned!
Click here to learn more about all the lies we tell about Columbus.