07 Oct 2014

Columbus Day – Dispel the Myths, Discuss the Impact

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In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

In fact, on October 12th of that year. For this reason, the closest Monday to that date (the 2nd Monday of October) was chosen by the US Government in 1971 to be Columbus Day. Celebrated as an official US holiday since 1937, it initiated as an Italian-American fest, given that Columbus was originally Italian.

The above are agreed-upon facts.  Or maybe not. As you will see, his history is largely controversial or at least unknown.

To begin with,  several peoples want to claim Columbus as their own: The Italians, because of his supposed birth place; the Spanish, because he was sent by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand; the Jews – because 1492 was the final slash of the Spanish Inquisition – leading one to raise eyebrows as to why he was sent away; the Indians (as in the country of India) because he was headed for their spices; the Portuguese, because he was the son of a Portuguese woman, and later married a high nobility lady from that country; and, more recently, the Polish – given evidence that Columbus was actually the son of exiled Polish King Vladislav III. Now that’s a lot of controversy.

Why the interest in Christopher Columbus? Because he is associated with being the Discoverer of the Americas. The Game Changer. The One Who Realized the World Wasn’t Flat (which, by the way is a myth – plenty of explorers used the stars as guides and had concluded that the world must be round.) Those are the positive associations. On the flip side, if he was the one to bring white men to colonize the West, well then, he’s responsible for the takeover of Native American land and culture. Following this line of thought, instead of Columbus Day, in Berkeley California, Indigenous People’s Day is celebrated, and in South Dakota, it’s Native Americans Day.

To dispel another myth associated with Columbus, it turns out he was not the first to visit the Americas from the Eastern Hemisphere. Rather, it was the Vikings, under the leadership of Leif Erikson, who explored Canada for one winter around the year 1000 CE. The difference? Slews of settlers did not follow the Vikings, whereas they did follow after Columbus.

Given all of the disagreements on historical origins and impact, what can be agreed upon is that Columbus was an important figure in Europeans coming to North, Central, and South America. His ships were a catalyst for more to come. No matter the details, it’s clear his voyage was effecting, especially in the eventual creation of the United States of America. Either way you look at it, Columbus was a key domino in bringing Europeans to build up the Americas, and that is reason enough to commemorate Columbus Day.

At Rockaway Care Center, Columbus Day is good food for thought. Conversations about historiography – the way history is told – are intriguing and educating. So use the day for discussion, and appreciation for the U.S. of A. which ensued over the centuries since Columbus arrived over 500 years ago.



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