Editorial: Columbus Day should be celebrated, but not on this date
Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08
Today is Columbus Day, an American national holiday which, this year, approximates the 520th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Bahamas and the supposed discovery of the Americas. It is primarily observed by the Italian-American community as a celebration of Italian culture and traditions. Indeed, the city of Hartford celebrates the occasion with a parade down Franklin Avenue – the main thoroughfare in the city’s Little Italy section – which culminates in an afternoon festival at Columbus Park. The chairman of the 2009 parade, Al Marotta, explained the reason for the celebration: “We do it for ethnic and heritage, so young Italian Americans and [other] people don’t forget the Italian American and Italian culture.” In this respect, Columbus Day seems no different from St. Patrick’s Day or any other ethnic holiday.
But Columbus Day, of course, represents something different to millions who do not see the Western conquest of America as an occasion to celebrate. Indigenous people and their allies, that is, rightfully see in the celebration of Columbus an implicit approval or pardon for the extraordinary acts of violence, subjugation and destruction brought about by the opening of the New World to Western conquest and settlement. The conquistadors’ attitude toward the native peoples of America was often one that denied and denigrated their humanity and justified enslavement and genocide for the prosperity of European empires. It is hard to see the past 520 years as being anything other than an epoch of misery and decline for what were once prosperous and flourishing cultures.
This is not to say, however, that the idea of a holiday that serves to celebrate the contributions of Italians and Italian-Americans to American culture is one that should be discarded. On the contrary, we think that this is a fine idea, especially when the occasion leads to charitable giving, as it does in Hartford. But it makes little sense to use the anniversary of Columbus’ 1492 landing as the date on which to celebrate, or as the reason for that celebration. Columbus, though born in Genoa, was in the employ of the Spanish monarchs when he landed on Guanahani. He was also not the first Western explorer to encounter the New World: that honor belongs to the Viking Leif Ericsson. And it is, at last, shameful to even implicitly endorse the suffering of America’s native population on a day that represents their conquest and subjugation.