The Controversy of Columbus Day

Courtesy+of+Kenneth+C.+Zirkel
Courtesy of Kenneth C. Zirkel

Courtesy of Kenneth C. Zirkel

Photographer: Kenneth C. Zirkel

Photographer: Kenneth C. Zirkel

Courtesy of Kenneth C. Zirkel

David Huang and Vedant Mahesh

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 Everyone knows about Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who discovered the Americas. Recently, the existence of Columbus day, the holiday that commemorates the anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, has received heated debate.  

 Columbus Day was first celebrated in Colorado in the autumn of 1905, and it became a federal holiday in the United States in 1937. Most states in the U.S. celebrate Columbus Day as an official state holiday.

However, it is a controversial day with a turbulent history that is has received question over its existence. Opposition has dated back all the way back to the 1800s, where anti-immigrant groups in the U.S. rejected the holiday because it was associated with Catholicism. More recently, Native Americans and other groups protest Columbus day, claiming that it celebrates the colonization of the Americas, the start of the transatlantic slave trade, and millions of people dead due to murder and disease.

Others, including some U.S. states, claim that the holiday promotes white supremacy, the dominance of white culture. “At a basic level, we’re saying ‘no’ to a day named after someone who was a tyrant, and was a torturer, and was the destroyer of indigenous people, to turn this around and to honor those people without saying anything bad about other people,” Nadeem Mazen, the Cambridge, Massachusetts city councilor, said. Some states have instituted Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day that celebrates the indigenous peoples of the U.S., in place of Columbus day.

        However, it is not logical to just blame Columbus for the deaths of so many native peoples. European disease, especially smallpox, have killed 70 to 80 percent of Native Americans, those deaths have happened over decades, but calculating all those deaths is impossible to do. Along with that, most Italian Americans and some Hispanics commemorate Columbus, as he holds a special place in the minds of them in particular.

The day also marks the 25th anniversary of the designation of October as Italian American Heritage Month. “Columbus Day is not just a celebration of Columbus’ arrival, but a day Italian Americans share their heritages with all Americans,” said the chairman of the National Italian American Foundation, Frank J. Guarini.

        The debate over Columbus Day demonstrates the confusion about how certain histories U.S. fits into our national identity.  

 

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