Columbus Day is approaching, and it has me asking, “Why are we still celebrating this?”
Every second Monday of October, the United States has a federal holiday that only an assortment of schools and businesses actually observe. But let’s be real, why do we still celebrate this holiday? Its named after a man whose greatest achievement led to one of (if not the most) successful genocides in history? It makes sense that 20 states no longer recognize Columbus Day even exists … Just writing this article made me a little bit more salty about all the lies my elementary school teachers littered my brain with for so many years.
- Columbus didn’t discover anything.
The first people to discover America were nomadic tribes from Asia who crossed over a land bridge in the Bering Strait into Alaska. Much later, Columbus landed on the land of Guanahani (now known as San Salvador) in 1492. He thought he had landed in Asia. At his time of arrival, the population of what we now call Native Americans was more than 112 million people, and had been populated for possibly 15,000 years already. Europe had only been around a third of that time.
Not to mention the fact that 500 years before Columbus came “strolling into town,” the Vikings had already beat him to it. Leif Erickson, a Viking explorer, was blown off course on his way to Greenland and landed in what he named “Vinland” because of the wild grape vines. His crew built a home in modern-day Newfoundland, Canada. Evidence of their settlement was found by a Norwegian archaeologists in the 1960s.
- Columbus was a jerk
Columbus set out on an expedition for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain when he stumbled upon the Americas, looking for a faster route to India. The King and Queen had promised 10,000 silver coins to the first sailor to spot land. When one of Columbus’s men saw the Americas in the distance, Columbus lied and said that he had spotted land the night before but didn’t mention it. He happily took money out of his crew’s hands.
Then, while Columbus stayed in the Bahamas, he was hosted kindly by the tribal people. When leaving, he repaid them by kidnapping 10 of the tribe members and stealing the tribe’s gold and other valuables to take back to Spain to show the King and Queen. When he returned to the Americas for a second time, Queen Isabella had advised him against enslaving or kidnapping any other indigenous people to take back to Spain. He later returned to Spain with 560 enslaved individuals, 200 of which died on the way to Europe.
- Columbus has nothing to do with the United States
First of all, Christopher Columbus never even stepped foot in what is today the United States of America. In reality, the holiday actually has very little to do with Columbus.
Columbus Day was established as a national holiday in 1937 as an Italian-American pride holiday, like St. Patrick’s Day for Irish-Americans. As Italian immigrants flooded through Ellis Island onto U.S. soil, so did anti-Italian sentiment, which marinated in American culture over the decades. Then, in New Orleans in 1890, 19 Italian immigrants were put on trial for the murder of the New Orleans chief of police. Outraged when the men were found not guilty, a mob of around 7,000 people seized 11 Italians and lynched them all. Later, in 1900s, leaders of the Italian-American community, most notably the Knights of Columbus, pushed the government to establish the Italian-American pride holiday Columbus Day to put a stop to racism toward Italians.
By the way, Columbus sailed for Spain and Columbus isn’t even his real Italian name — it’s Cristoforo Colombo.
- We have so much more that deserves to be celebrated
Americans have the least amount of vacation time out of all of the world’s post-industrial economies, and only one fourth of American workers don’t even get any paid vacation time at all. I would say that we deserve a little time off. Also, we do have something to celebrate in place of Columbus Day.
In many states, instead of celebrating Columbus Day, they celebrate Native Americans’ Day or Indigenous People’s Day. This started in South Dakota, and is a time for native and non-native cultures to come together and share native traditions, culture, and background. In Berkeley, California, organizations, community groups, and churches hold cultural activities and pow wows.
To plan your Native Americans’ Day, go check out Zhiyan Deng’s article, “Three quick trips for Columbus Day weekend.”