It’s that time of the year when Americans gather together to squabble about their national founding myth.
Columbus Day, touted by federal employees who get an extra Monday off, is lambasted by just about everyone else for celebrating a man who neither discovered the Americas or showed much kindness to the people who were here in the first place.
Columbus’s trip to the Caribbean heralded a new century of trade and commerce, but it also, according to historian Howard Zinn, started a violent and deadly century for Native Americans. Columbus, who committed genocide, brought with him the diseases and killing instruments that eventually wiped out 100 million people within one century after his arrival.
In protest, groups actively campaign against the holiday. One group asked people to reconsider the holiday:
In Denver, where the holiday was first celebrated in 1907, people annually march in an effort to transform the day from a “racist holiday that celebrates conquest and domination to a respectful celebration that calls for the future Americas without racism, exploitation, or state/corporate domination,” the group’s press release states.
In South Dakota, rather than celebrate Columbus or wait until November to celebrate Native American Heritage Month, citizens celebrate Native Americans’ Day. In Berkeley, Calif., residents celebrate Indigenous People Day.
Meanwhile, on social media sites, people partake in the true American pastime: snarky complaints.
Whatever the day’s disputes, the holiday always strikes a personal note of nostalgia. My fifth-grade teacher, the lovely Mrs. Elliot, made her students repeat a poem every day before we were allowed to escape to recess. I can’t help but recall the lines on this day:
In 1492 Christopher Columbum sailed the ocean blue
In one hand he held the Declaration of Indigestion and
In the other, the Star-Speckled Banana.
He said, “Give me Life, Liberty and all the other ten-cent magazines.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Hoboes and Tramps,
Cross-eyed mosquitos and bow-legged ants of the jury
I come before you to stand behind you
To tell you of something I know nothing about.
On Thursday, which is Good Friday,
There will be a Ladies Tea for men only
Admission is free, pay at the door,
Pull up a chair, sit on the floor and
We will discuss the four corners of the Round Table.