October 10, 2005

Columbus Day. A celebration?

Am I 'celebrating' Columbus Day? The American holiday that honors the mariner-discoverer Columbus who came to this land some 600 odd years ago in quest of a passage to India, and opened up the route for all future immigrants to this rich and beautiful land.

The dictionary defines him as an "Italian explorer in the service of Spain who determined that the earth was round and attempted to reach Asia by sailing west from Europe, thereby discovering America (1492). He made three subsequent voyages to the Caribbean in his quest for a sea route to China".

Undoubtedly, Cristopher Columbus epitomized the spirit of adventure, the ability to take risks, and also the ability to persevere in the face of all odds. He deserves to be commemorated as a hero. However, as is always, there is a flip side to this; the colonization of the Americas that happened thereafter. Columbus's successful endeavor initiated an exodus that displaced and brought immense sufferring to the indigenous population of 'the new world' that he had discovered. The native americans, who so far were living in peaceful coexistence with nature in this land of plenty were now expected to share their land with peoples who had no intention of ever returning to their own lands. In today's terms it was a 'forced occupation' which eventually took away the controls from the indigenous population of the occupied country.

History in a new perspective can be unforgiving. Columbus's quest, and his accomplishment of it, made way for Spain to conquer the Americas, which in a present day context is not viewed favorably. Thus, the 'Day of Discovery' in Venezuela was renamed the "Day of Indegenous Resistance' last year, and a 100 year old statue of Columbus was toppled and then dragged through downtown Caracas by a mob. Even in the USA there are groups that protest the Columbus Day holiday and the sentiment is gathering momentum despite the existence of the much loved large Italian American population that inhabits this country.

As for me, I celebrate Columbus the entrepreneur, the adventurer who went 'where no man has gone before'. However, I choose to dissociate him from the events that he became a harbinger to, or else I'd also have to denounce Einstein for being a harbinger to the tragedy that was Hiroshima and Nagasaki!


Anonymous said...

I like your stance on the subject.

Anonymous said...

i strongly agree with your point of view. Columbus also was a part of the slave trade when he brought slaves from the west indies.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Strange how historical stories get diluted and the truth gets lost. It feels weird celebrating this day with the long standing controversy always lurking in the margins. What is more distressing to me, though, is how Martin Luther King day is not recognized throughout the states. There's something really wrong with that.