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In 1492 Christopher Columbus Destroyed Our History
October 10, 2013 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Why celebrating Columbus Day is wrong, and Bartolomé Day is right. (according to theOatmeal.com)
posted by blue_beetle (143 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love the idea of Bartolomé Day. I heard a paper on him several years ago, and he was truly a remarkable man. He was surrounded by a racist world view, but rose above it.
posted by jb at 8:17 AM on October 10, 2013


Reddit discussion about the selective retelling of history.
posted by xekul at 8:22 AM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Huh. re: the reddit thread - "I respectfully disagree. I don't think most people have a romanticized view of Columbus; I think that people in general misunderstand the notion of "Columbus Day". As in, people believe we are celebrating the man himself."

This person has clearly never seen the Columbus Day parade in NYC. Many people there absolutely see it as a celebration of the man and of their own heritage.
posted by elizardbits at 8:26 AM on October 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


Maybe we can stop celebrating white male european days, even reformed ones, and find a few other folks worth making a fuss over.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:26 AM on October 10, 2013 [19 favorites]


I found it heartening that instead of stopping at the "Columbus was awful" teardown Matthew Inman chose to try and make a further, positive, point about de las Casas. One of my problems with Zinn and the whole genre of "everything you learned is WRONG" books is how they address the systemic ontological biases of the US education system by dragging the needle all the way to the opposite extreme, glossing over anything positive ever done by any traditionally prominent historical figure.

Of course de las Casas wasn't a perfect exemplar either. Anyone interested in a more nuanced take on him might enjoy T. Todorov's The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other which explores Columbus, Cortez, and de las Casas as case studies of ways of relating to an "other" and argues (I'm oversimplifying here) that while de las Casas was nicer to the natives he still had some important failures of understanding that affected how he related to them. Todorov also bigs a bit into the good/bad dichotomy that pops up in xecul's reddit link.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:28 AM on October 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


From the reddit link:

While the epidemic can technically be traced back to him, it would still have occurred if he had arrived armed with nothing but pillows and hugs, so it's kind of a stretch to make him morally culpable.

This. Columbus may have been an awful person (sounds like it), but him being less awful wouldn't have saved 90%+ of the Native Americans, who died of disease.

All of the information in this essay came from A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, and Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Lowewen

I hope that Zinn's telling of history isn't this deformed.
posted by goethean at 8:29 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Celsius1414: "Maybe we can stop celebrating white male european days, even reformed ones, and find a few others folks worth making a fuss over."

You have ideas? The last of the Lucayans went extinct in the 1500's and as far as I know we don't have extant records from them, and we could also maybe use a good properly hispanic holiday that isn't about a battle in a war that few remember and drinking.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:33 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ah yes, Mr Columbus, who never set foot on what is now the United States.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:35 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


And look at all the lovely things he gave us: Lumberyards, lumbar punctures, pinto beans, Columbine, Jo March's favorite swear word; the list goes on and on. (Yes, I'm just bitter I don't get Monday off.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:36 AM on October 10, 2013


I'm a both-and kind of guy, so I don't see why we can't celebrate the best of Columbus and the best of de las Casas. These issues are so, so complicated that a scroll-down cartoon is not going to convey very well. A lot of the contemporary information about Columbus came from people very envious of his unique position in history.; same thing with de las Casas, who couldn't even remain in the diocese of which he was bishop.

Also, Friar (and, eventually, Bishop) de las Casas has a cause for canonization open in the Catholic Church.
posted by resurrexit at 8:38 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, Columbus was a sadistic dickhead and I'm all for changing the holiday. But lets not forget the spirit of the holiday, that is, the spirit of adventure and exploration. Columbus immediately conjures up crappy stuffy like colonialism and racial dominance. But the point of the holiday wasn't to flout the oppression of natives but to inspire people, kids mostly, to go explore.
posted by Descent at 8:38 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


You have ideas? The last of the Lucayans went extinct in the 1500's and as far as I know we don't have extant records from them.

I'm sorry, these two sentences seem to be missing a connection. Unless you're suggesting continuing to celebrate Columbus because we remember his name and not theirs.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:39 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow it's been so long since i've lived back east I had forgotten Columbus day was even a thing.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:40 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The point of the holiday was to find a Catholic guy to make a holiday about. Also trying to gloss over the colonial hellride in the name of "the spirit of adventure" is pretty tone-deaf.
posted by beefetish at 8:40 AM on October 10, 2013 [16 favorites]


Many people there absolutely see it as a celebration of the man and of their own heritage.
Yeah as a Italian-American ethnic holiday which seems ...strange but whatever. My Scots side gets a parade too and the Swiss-American ethnic holiday is to sit atop our golden horde away from prying eyes like the dragons we secretly emulate
posted by The Whelk at 8:46 AM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


why we can't celebrate the best of Columbus

I, uh... I mean, maybe this is because there are certain grievances that kind of overshadow the other good works a human may have contributed to society. In the case of Columbus, the only reason his accomplishments aren't routinely overshadowed by the activities that, today would be treated rightly as sociopathic/psychotic, is because these activities are never discussed.

We have whole books that teach little kids about Columbus, and they obviously never even mention these literally insane things he did. So, yeah, I can see how a lot of people would perhaps end up as adults that think "what's the big deal?" like if you grew up only hearing about Hitler's paintings.
posted by odinsdream at 8:47 AM on October 10, 2013 [40 favorites]


MetaFilter likes the Oatmeal now? Am I browsing from Rand McNally?
posted by Going To Maine at 8:47 AM on October 10, 2013 [20 favorites]


Also trying to gloss over the colonial hellride in the name of "the spirit of adventure" is pretty tone-deaf.

Yeah, I can't really imagine that anyone would want their kids to be inspired to adventures by a genocidal fuckhead who encouraged and profited from child rape. I have learned to my despair that this is a minority opinion.

I guess it could be worse, we could be celebrating Pizarro.
posted by elizardbits at 8:48 AM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


James Cook Day, then? He was even one of your countrymen, unlike Columbus.

Or HMS Beagle Day!
posted by alasdair at 8:48 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, Columbus was a sadistic dickhead and I'm all for changing the holiday. But lets not forget the spirit of the holiday, that is, the spirit of adventure and exploration. Columbus immediately conjures up crappy stuffy like colonialism and racial dominance. But the point of the holiday wasn't to flout the oppression of natives but to inspire people, kids mostly, to go explore.

How about we just drop Columbus' name and repackage the holiday as 'Explorers Day'? We could even make it a new tradition for kids to watch the eponymous movie.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:48 AM on October 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


Here in Georgia we also observe Robert E. Lee's Birthday and Confederate Memorial Day, so celebrating the "father of the trans-Atlantic slave trade" fits right in.
posted by TedW at 8:50 AM on October 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


resurrexit: I'm a both-and kind of guy, so I don't see why we can't celebrate the best of Columbus and the best of de las Casas.

Because the best of Columbus is so completely and totally overshadowed by the worst of Columbus. It's like having a Hitler day to celebrate the Volkswagen. Columbus wasn't a flawed hero, he was a absolute monster.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:52 AM on October 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


I just noticed that instead of President's Day, Washington's Birthday is a state holiday, but Lincoln's is not. Figures.
posted by TedW at 8:52 AM on October 10, 2013


I'm a both-and kind of guy, so I don't see why we can't celebrate the best of Columbus and the best of de las Casas.

So how does "both-and" figure into your appeal to downplay atrocities in favor of "[celebrating] the best of Columbus"? This is nonsense.
posted by invitapriore at 8:53 AM on October 10, 2013


If you start by assessing Columbus realistically you'd probably have to look at what the American Revolution meant to First Nations. Americans, this would depress you.
posted by mobunited at 8:54 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


How about we just drop Columbus' name and repackage the holiday as 'Explorers Day'? We could even make it a new tradition for kids to watch the eponymous movie.


Now we're getting somewhere! I actually just watched that movie over the summer. Stranger than I remember as a kid.
posted by Descent at 8:54 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The best excuse for Columbus Day is that Columbus' arrival in the Americas represents a major turning point in world history. It should be possible to recognize this without canonizing a profoundly evil human being, although I'm not sure it's reasonably possible to have a modern holiday about something and then stop people from celebrating that thing, rather than merely observing it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:55 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I lived in New York it was easy to see what Columbus Day was all about: the Italian Americab Pride Parade. But in my new home of Portland, where my fellow guidos are rare, it isn't even a holiday really. Just the day off described.

To be the embodiment of the Italian American without the disgusting brutality of Columbis we need a person who, warts and all, shows our struggles and successes, our dreams and our hopes, we need Frank Sinatra day.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:56 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is no "best of Columbus." He was wrong about the size of the world, made landfall virtually by accident, and enslaved and tortured the people he met to save himself from the lies he'd told Spain.
posted by mobunited at 8:56 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I like Berkeley because it celebrates Indigenous People's Day instead.
posted by CarolynG at 8:59 AM on October 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


When I lived in New York it was easy to see what Columbus Day was all about: the Italian Americab Pride Parade.

Yeah, over the years, it's turned into an "in your face, Paddy!" answer to the massivity of the St Patrick's day festivities here in NYC.
posted by nevercalm at 8:59 AM on October 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


To be the embodiment of the Italian American without the disgusting brutality of Columbis we need a person who, warts and all, shows our struggles and successes, our dreams and our hopes, we need Frank Sinatra day.

How about Garibaldi?
posted by mobunited at 9:00 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Only if I'm allowed to say it in Londo Mollari's accent.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:01 AM on October 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


Italian Americab

I guess given the number of taxis in NYC that this sort of thing was bound to happen sooner or later.
posted by invitapriore at 9:02 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


The best excuse for Columbus Day is I'm absolutely against giving up any holidays - workers work enough. Even if I had an iron clad holiday all ready to go like Sainty McNon-denominational-nor-religious-Sain'ts Day I wouldn't expect that to be accepted. If I hated the holiday - like say - the guy who's grandma actually did get hit by Santa - I'd spend the day upset and mope - but I wouldn't give an inch to give it up. Because someone is looking for a way to squeeze out more productivity from you - and they don't need any more opportunity to help.

Moreover, if there is anything slated for a National US holiday in the next decade it will be slated for 9/11 - which most people around here seem to take off anyway... which means it really is going to be a ridiculous Labor Day to 9/11 Day week to 2 week span... and I'm sure they'll write Columbus day out when that official holiday gets to be official...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:03 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


the point of the holiday wasn't to flout the oppression of natives but to inspire people, kids mostly, to go explore.

How fitting it therefore is that its most common observance nowadays is a sale at Wal*Mart or something. (Journey forth! Explore our world of savings!)

My earliest memories of Columbus Day as a thing are from when I was in Junior High; I was in the gifted-and-talented group, and one of the Privileges Of Membership was that each one of us got to read a poem during the morning announcements each day that there was a holiday. Our teacher assigned a different holiday to each of us - and I got Columbus Day, and distinctly remember feeling that I'd gotten stuck with a really lame holiday. The poem was also this dippy cringingly awful thing they'd dug up in some "Treasured American Poems" anthology and I remember wincing the whole time I was reading it because holy shit it was lame.

Years later I told this story during a college class project about creating a play about the Columbus Voyage's 500th anniversary; a lot of the other students had similar stories about growing up and wondering what the hell the big deal with Columbus Day was. One even talked about how some of their high school buddies would sit around drinking or something, trying to remember who Christopher Columbus was and saying "who cares, we get a day off from school."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 AM on October 10, 2013


Raffaele Esposito, who's up there in the stratosphere with da Vinci and Michelangelo.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:06 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The best excuse for Columbus Day is I'm absolutely against giving up any holidays - workers work enough. Even if I had an iron clad holiday all ready to go like Sainty McNon-denominational-nor-religious-Sain'ts Day I wouldn't expect that to be accepted. If I hated the holiday - like say - the guy who's grandma actually did get hit by Santa - I'd spend the day upset and mope - but I wouldn't give an inch to give it up. Because someone is looking for a way to squeeze out more productivity from you - and they don't need any more opportunity to help.

Do a lot of employers actually give Columbus Day off? I don't even remember if we got Columbus Day off in school.
posted by kmz at 9:07 AM on October 10, 2013


Do a lot of employers actually give Columbus Day off? I don't even remember if we got Columbus Day off in school.

Among other things, it's still a federal holiday.
posted by likeatoaster at 9:11 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


As far as I know the only people who reliably get Columbus Day off are government employees and people who follow the same schedule as the government (e.g. schoolchildren, and much of the Washington press corps).
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:11 AM on October 10, 2013


Government employees get Columbus Day off. I don't know of any private employer that does that, but I'm sure there are a few out there.
posted by invitapriore at 9:12 AM on October 10, 2013


I love how this now-we-know-Columbus-was-Hitler-grar is presented as some sort of end-result of a carefully controlled experiment in a lab, from which none shall dissent.

In reality what has happened is that some people have shifted to the de las Casas side of colonial history as opposed to the Spanish side. More people are reading Howard Zinn's truly-true-truth books than are reading others'.

Was Columbus perfect? Heck no. Are all members of our federal holiday cult saints? Heck no.
posted by resurrexit at 9:12 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Government employees get Columbus Day off. I don't know of any private employer that does that, but I'm sure there are a few out there.

The Invisible Hand is, once again, way ahead of the Government.
posted by three blind mice at 9:14 AM on October 10, 2013


Empress Callipygos - Too bad you didn't get to read America is Hard to See by Robert Frost. It's plausibly patriotic so most people seem to miss the subversive edge to it.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:15 AM on October 10, 2013


In reality what has happened is that some people have shifted to the de las Casas side of colonial history as opposed to the Spanish side.

In reality you are reading this thread wrong because no one is saying that. This is an especially specious argument considering that they are both on the Spanish side.
posted by elizardbits at 9:17 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Going To Maine: MetaFilter likes the Oatmeal now? Am I browsing from Rand McNally?

I think the problem with may of the Oatmeal's strips are that they are cute but shallow and/or self-serving. Fun to read, but not "hey, this is a great thing for a stand-alone post." This, on the other hand, is a clear, mostly text retelling of history, and focusing on someone great as an answer to someone pretty awful.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:17 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Was Columbus perfect? Heck no.

Did he cut people up and feed them to dogs? Only a little! Did he rape young girls? Probably! Did he like spaghetti? I don't know!
posted by swift at 9:18 AM on October 10, 2013 [51 favorites]


This person has clearly never seen the Columbus Day parade in NYC.

Or other cities with sizable Catholic populations (I lived in Syracuse for a few years and the parade is a big deal there and is about the man himself.)
posted by aught at 9:18 AM on October 10, 2013


Columbus may have been an awful person (sounds like it), but him being less awful wouldn't have saved 90%+ of the Native Americans, who died of disease.

Well, of course. And if it were merely a series of accidental pandemics like the Black Plague, it would be a huge global tragedy and we would look at it as we do the plague. It would be horrible and sad and we would all mourn how much had been lost of lives and cultures. And it would be bitter because it would be an accident resulting from a perfectly sincere desire to see and understand the world.

But every time Europeans had the chance to work incredible, violent evil in the Americas, they took it! Feeding living people to dogs! Raping children! Driving people off their land with violence! Probably tons of terrible things we don't even know about because it was hundreds of years ago and everyone is dead. And then made up a lot of lies about it.

It was not until I met some local Dakota people whose families had bad, bitter stories about how their great-great grandparents were treated when they were driven off their land that I really understood how this stuff hasn't gone away. It's not washed out and forgotten. It's not just some long-ago piece of bad fortune.

It's a slap in the face to people who really live here now today to celebrate Columbus Day. It's a slap in the face to people of native descent and African descent, and it's one more reminded that European-Americans are at best indifferent to our own history.


In reality what has happened is that some people have shifted to the de las Casas side of colonial history as opposed to the Spanish side.


Yes. And life is made up of political and moral choices, and which side you pick says quite a lot about your character and priorities. "Eh, we can't know enough about history to say and it's all a toss up" - well, if that's your line, let's not honor anyone. If we can't use the available evidence to say that Columbus and his men committed horrible crimes with full intent, then we can't really use any historical evidence that is prior to cameras and other recording devices. Year Zero for everyone, I guess.
posted by Frowner at 9:19 AM on October 10, 2013 [29 favorites]


What this misses is that Columbus went on his historic expedition because he fucked up his math. He thought the world was smaller than it was, so that the trip from Europe to Asia would be possible in a reasonable amount of time. The people who knew the real size of the world told him to go away. He eventually convinced the King and Queen of Spain (I guess they were bored from running out of cities to conquer).
posted by Hactar at 9:20 AM on October 10, 2013


Americans, this would depress you.

It's incredibly condescending and arrogant that you think many of us haven't considered such things.
posted by aught at 9:25 AM on October 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


RonButNotStupid: How about we just drop Columbus' name and repackage the holiday as 'Explorers Day'? We could even make it a new tradition for kids to watch the eponymous movie.

Because the history of exploration is littered (or perhaps paved) with exploitation and access by brute force. In reading about Europeans "exploring" Africa, there was a heavy reliance on local help, but little record of who those locals were. Also, there was a lot of trophy hunting and ogling the weird little people and their local customs. There are some who went into areas that were unknown to their culture just to know more, but a lone John Muir wandering off into the unknown doesn't ring out as EXPLORER! like a fleet of Spanish galleons.

Perhaps let's have a day to celebrate pushing boundaries and learning about people. I haven't thought of a catchy name or a poster person for this yet, but I'm sure y'all can help with that.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:26 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


My town has always run a Columbus Day fair, so for me, Columbus Day is about riding the Gravitron and eating sausage and peppers. (And, more recently, about drinking $3 cups of Miller High Life and listening to Journey cover bands.)
posted by uncleozzy at 9:33 AM on October 10, 2013


well, if that's your line, let's not honor anyone.

That would be someone else's response to history--it's never pretty. Populists trot out the heroes they've got, and at one time in the 19th century, that guy was Columbus. I don't pour out a 40 for Washington or Lincoln either.

Of course I agree with criticizing the horrible actions of Columbus and his men as those actions were reported, but taking de las Casas accounts as gospel truth is also making a "moral and political choice," and "picking sides." The man used hyperbole and hearsay allegations to fight for his very noble cause, a cause I endorse heartily in the safety of hindsight.

I don't have a dog in the fight and so I'll bow out, but I just don't understand the outrage as if some sort of new evidence has been discovered recently that proves all the allegations against Columbus. People used to believe de las Casas to be biased and largely unreliable, albeit right-thinking and well-intentioned; now they just believe him.
posted by resurrexit at 9:35 AM on October 10, 2013


I thought the only people that actually "celebrated" Columbus day were mattress stores and such?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:35 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


How about we switch it to Columbo Day and celebrate fictional detectives?
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:36 AM on October 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


Columbo?

Monk 4 Lyfe. Always and ever.
posted by aramaic at 9:37 AM on October 10, 2013


Bartolomé de las Casas was cool and all, but really if we're to celebrate a Spanish New World explorer, I think it should be Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the treasurer of an expedition to colonize Florida which was repeatedly shipwrecked until there were only four survivors, who then traveled over land for eight years from near modern day Galveston, Texas to Culiacán, Mexico.

Cabeza de Vaca and his compatriots were captured by natives and passed or escaped through dozens of tribal areas on their meandering way to Mexico. Depending on native attitudes toward his group, he was alternately a slave, a trader, and a shaman. When he and his followers were found by a Spanish slave-taking expedition, he had amassed a large group of local followers with his faith-healing techniques. Despite assurances to the contrary the natives who traveled with him were captured and enslaved.

On his return to Spain he wrote a monograph of his travels, called Naufragios ("Shipwrecks"), constituting the first accurate descriptions of Native American tribes by a European explorer, and the first acknowledgement of the humanity of such.

For his troubles, and for being the highest ranking officer of a failed expedition, he was awarded or more accurately "exiled to" a governorship in faraway Argentina, where his benevolent attitude toward the natives found him arrested and returned to Spain to die in penury.

Or we could celebrate another surivior of the ill-fated Narváez expedition, Estevanico, the childhood slave of Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, known as the first person born in Africa to have arrived in what is now the continental United States. Upon the group's return to Spanish Mexico, after helping the three remaining Spaniards to survive their journey, incidentally being made a slave twice over when the group was enslaved by local tribes, Estevanico was sold to the local governor while the Spaniards sailed home.

Because of his experience and a rumor of cities of gold beyond the desert, Estevanico was chosen to accompany another expedition. During negotiations with the Zuni, he was killed. It has been suggested that his death was faked by friends among the Zuni to gain his freedom. That would be nice, but it doesn't ring true. The expedition turned back, and the Seven Cities of Cibola were left for Coronado to "discover."

It seems more appropriate to me for a celebration of early European exploration in North America to be one of disaster, failure, slavery, greed, betrayal, and the occasional glimpse of hope and understanding.

Sadly, we are stuck with lies about Columbus. Such is history.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:38 AM on October 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


Empress Callipygos - Too bad you didn't get to read America is Hard to See by Robert Frost.

The book we did read in that college course was actually straight-up amazing - the first book in Eduardo Galeano's Memory Of Fire trilogy, which I once described to someone as "imagine if Howard Zinn and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had a love child." I went on to get the other two books in the trilogy so I could finish; it really drove home just how bizarre and chaotic and random history actually was.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:39 AM on October 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


if that's your line, let's not honor anyone

That's fine with me. Let's just follow the UK method and declare Bank Holidays.
posted by muddgirl at 9:45 AM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I like the spirit of the Oatmeal bit, but if we're pointing out what it could have been, it's not quite true that Columbus thought the world was round (i.e. a sphere)--he thought it was pear-shaped. The Oatmeal could also have savaged him with the fact that he was put on trial and sent back to Europe in chains because almost everyone thought he was too harsh, in particular for preventing the religious conversion of the local population that would have given them more rights. The crown let him come back only if he'd avoid setting foot on Hispaniola, and IIRC he spent a long, sad time shipwrecked on the last voyage, substantially limiting the remainder of his dubious career.

If we're picking people to celebrate instead, I'd suggest Fray Ramón Pané, who sailed with Columbus, wrote a brief semi-ethnographic account on some local group, lived with the locals for two years, and denounced Columbus at his trial over the conversion thing.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:46 AM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


If we wanted to be really thorough and re-right/write history, we could start by renaming places. Some might be kind of hard (British Columbia? Damn! And I find it a stretch that Columbine was named for the man in question here, and not the flower that looks like a cluster of doves).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:52 AM on October 10, 2013


I don't think it's necessary to strawman anyone's argument. No one travels to Columbus, Ohio and thinks, "I'll take this opportunity to learn about the now-mythic exploits of an explorer named Christopher Columbus." Place-names and holiday names are not equivalent.
posted by muddgirl at 9:55 AM on October 10, 2013


You know who y'all should honour with a federal holiday, considering how essential he was to the survival of the pilgrims and all: Squanto.

Kidnapped and brought to Spain into slavery, freed by the local friars who attempted to make him a Christian, moved from Spain to England to try and get back to his home country, finally reached New England with John Smith's expedition, just in time to save the Pilgrims from starving to death.

If there ever was a true American, never say die hero it was Squanto.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:02 AM on October 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


I like Berkeley because it celebrates Indigenous People's Day instead.

The holiday is called Dia de la Raza (Day of the Race literally) in most Latin American countries, Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural in Argentina and Día de las Américas in Uruguay.

Many countries see it as a celebration of the resistance against the Europeans.
posted by jontyjago at 10:04 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I thought the only people that actually "celebrated" Columbus day were mattress stores and such?

There are others.

Setting aside the awful legacy of Columbus himself for a moment... the tragic thing about Columbus Day is that it and the celebration of his name by Catholic Americans generally, basically started as a positively-intentioned thing - a way for Catholics (mainly Irish, but then later and also for ethnic reasons, Italian) to demonstrate their American-ness in a country that largely viewed them as dangerous aliens by claiming a symbol of America as their own. Many Americans protested it back then and tried to have it banned in various localities because they thought it was some sort of insidious Papal plot to encourage Catholicism in the U.S. This was when anti-Catholic sentiment was a violent and dangerous thing, resulting in massacres and lynchings all over the country. The declaration of a national holiday in 1906 felt like a victory of inclusion to those folks, who were just starting to get access to political and social power.

Maybe that's not a reason to continue to celebrate it, but it's an interesting perspective to consider.
posted by snottydick at 10:05 AM on October 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


The point of the holiday was to find a Catholic guy to make a holiday about. Also trying to gloss over the colonial hellride in the name of "the spirit of adventure" is pretty tone-deaf.

Especially since exploration and cultural sharing were actually values shared by a majority of Native American tribes. Part of colonization included adapting narratives to focus on the worst of Native American cultures (which, realistically, were no worse than the colonizers) and expand those to include all "Indians", namely, taking the most negative behaviors of the warring Plains Tribes as somehow representative of the entirety of North America's tribes. Reality was much more nuanced.

There was an intertribal signed lingua franca, and regions of the Americas also had their own, varying, spoken ones. They also hold consideration for other types of travel, namely spiritual.

Speaking of place names. The area I'm from in Oregon was named "Mohawk", I'm sure New Yorkers will recognize it. That was where the white explorers who named it were originally from. They took it upon themselves to name the local Kalapuya tribe the "Mohawks" since... they were Indian like the rest...!! Thankfully the Kalapuya were able to get that overturned, but there is still a "Mohawk Valley" in Oregon, and although travelling storytellers criss-crossed the continent, it's probably safe to say that there weren't many, if any, Iroquois amongst the Kalapuya who could relate to their home being called "Mohawk". There are other, more respectful names; for instance our Mohawk Valley was harvested by the Kalapuya for camas root, named after the Chinook word "kamass". Pacific Northwesterners probably recognize it as a place name too.

All that to say, it doesn't take much looking to find plenty of examples of values that existed well before any white men set foot on North American land. They're human, after all. A more diverse – genuinely representative – set of people officially looked up to would be grand.
posted by fraula at 10:07 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]



If there ever was a true American, never say die hero it was Squanto.

When you're doing the grade 3 lets all learn about Thanksgiving via the medium of paper plates and construction paper hats they completely gloss over THE MOST INTERESTING PART OF THE STORY: How "Yes of course I speak English and Spanish, duh." Squanto saved a bunch of religious nutbars who didn't bring any farming equipment to massachusetts n the winter.
posted by The Whelk at 10:09 AM on October 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


How about we just drop Columbus' name and repackage the holiday as 'Explorers Day'?

What a great idea! Then it could go international!

When I lived in New York it was easy to see what Columbus Day was all about: the Italian Americab Pride Parade...
To be the embodiment of the Italian American without the disgusting brutality of Columbis...


When I lived in the Buffalo area, St. Joseph's Day was kind of A Not Small Thing for Italian-Americans in response to St. Patrick.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:20 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cabeza de Vaca and his compatriots were captured by natives and passed or escaped through dozens of tribal areas on their meandering way to Mexico.

I put together a post about him a few years ago. It turns out that virtually everything we know about pre-contact Texas Natives we know from his journals because disease & displacement had restructured the cultural landscape by the time Spanish explorers really moved permanently into the area in the early/mid 1700's. Brutal Journey was one of the most gripping books I've ever read.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:21 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a skit from Saturday Night Live, right?

Our major holidays are Christmas (repacked by a department store maven to sell stuff),

Thanksgiving (we fed the friendly but starving Indians in gratitude for occupying land which had been cleared by plague a couple of decades prior, or else the friendly Indians brought corn and deer to the feast, and they all danced to fiddle tunes),

Memorial Day (Indy 500)

Columbus Day (we came we saw, we killed them; eventually we realize they weren't Chinese; oh, and since we couldn't find the gold, we made up for the dearth of African slaves by shipping local islanders back to Europe--well, the ones we didn't feed to the dogs, I mean. Jeez, a guy has to pay Isabella back for the jewels, and set aside something for his heritage. Anyhow, we could celebrate Columbus for being the first guy to go broke in the New World.).

This makes as much sense as celebrating Hitler Day for the Volkswagon. Just put a white sale on it and let the guys take a day off.
posted by mule98J at 10:26 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I read this yesterday when friends started posting it all over Facebook.

On the one hand, it's a lot of great info. On the other hand, after ten years as a middle & high school history teacher working as a sub in LA & Seattle? I have never met a kid, EVER, who did NOT know that Columbus didn't really "discover" America, or who did NOT know that he kicked off a long-rolling genocide. Even the kids who don't give a shit about history know that. I've never met one who had been taught that people in 15th Century Europe thought the world was flat.

It's just not taught that way anymore. That stuff is all news to baby boomers and maybe some Gen-Xers, but it's not news in the schools on the west coast, at least. (Certainly not in Inman's current residence.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:28 AM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is just one data point, but I graduated from a pretty good public high school in 2005 in the NYC metro area and we totally got the "Columbus, Explorer and Visionary" treatment in middle school world history.
posted by invitapriore at 10:34 AM on October 10, 2013


MartinWisse: You know who y'all should honour with a federal holiday, considering how essential he was to the survival of the pilgrims and all: Squanto.

I remember the name Squanto from my elementary school education, but as could be expected, I don't recall much detail except the unique name. Squanto!

(I'm really interested to see how my son, now only 2, will experience the History of Columbus/Discovering the New World here in New Mexico, land of numerous tribes, pueblos and other native people)
posted by filthy light thief at 10:36 AM on October 10, 2013


I'm Catholic and I admit, I had no idea whatsoever it was ever supposed to be an Italian-American/Catholic celebration-- I wonder how much of that is geographically-based now? I guess I hear more about it in Philly (with neighborhoods that are historically Italian-American) than in Washington D.C. (which does not.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:38 AM on October 10, 2013


And in reading more about the true acts of Columbus and crew, I'm surprised some snarky native kids haven't dressed up as Mass Murderer Columbus for Halloween. Then again, it seems Halloween is fairly downlplayed on the local pueblos.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:38 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


it's not quite true that Columbus thought the world was round (i.e. a sphere)--he thought it was pear-shaped

In fact, he thought the Earth was shaped like a breast, and he was searching for the nipple.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:39 AM on October 10, 2013


One of my problems with Zinn ... dragging the needle all the way to the opposite extreme, glossing over anything positive ever done by any traditionally prominent historical figure.

This is a common misreading of A People's History and more specifically its aims. It does not pretend to be in any sense complete or a replacement for any other (honest) history. I see it more like Twain's "The War Prayer": You've heard half the story, the part everyone likes; a kind of "parade watcher's history" where great men did things and the grateful masses stood by and applauded and profited. So now here's some excerpts of the part you're not telling... the part you may not like so much, about some people who lived through all that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:39 AM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I always understood Zinn as a (IMO, necessary) corrective rather than a comprehensive account.
posted by invitapriore at 10:45 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Zinn himself is quite explicit about that in the introduction, at least for the version I read.
posted by ropeladder at 10:47 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Government employees get Columbus Day off. I don't know of any private employer that does that, but I'm sure there are a few out there.
It's also a Bank holiday - so bank employees also get the day off (although the stock market is open that day).
posted by dbmcd at 10:49 AM on October 10, 2013


My daughter's Montessori school celebrates Leif Erickson day instead and though I rolled my eyes a little bit at first, after I read Zinn's Peoples History of the US, I was totally down with it and happy they changed over.
posted by mathowie at 10:53 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was when anti-Catholic sentiment was a violent and dangerous thing, resulting in massacres and lynchings all over the country. The declaration of a national holiday in 1906 felt like a victory of inclusion to those folks, who were just starting to get access to political and social power.

Maybe that's not a reason to continue to celebrate it, but it's an interesting perspective to consider.


By that sentiment, and in recognition of the great strides that our country has made towards integrating Catholics and the Catholic faith into American life, instead of replacing Columbus Day with some other dead Spanish Catholic, let's replace it with a holiday celebrating another community of faith that is widely discriminated against in this country - Muslims, maybe. Or Mormons?
posted by muddgirl at 10:54 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


But the point of the holiday wasn't to flout the oppression of natives but to inspire people, kids mostly, to go explore.

Leif Eriskon Day
posted by Foosnark at 11:01 AM on October 10, 2013


My daughter's Montessori school celebrates Leif Erickson day instead and though I rolled my eyes a little bit at first, after I read Zinn's Peoples History of the US, I was totally down with it and happy they changed over.

Leif Erickson Day gets fairly contentious around these parts.
posted by snottydick at 11:01 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


By that sentiment, and in recognition of the great strides that our country has made towards integrating Catholics and the Catholic faith into American life, instead of replacing Columbus Day with some other dead Spanish Catholic, let's replace it with a holiday celebrating another community of faith that is widely discriminated against in this country - Muslims, maybe. Or Mormons?

I think it'd be better to refine, rather than redact recognition of Catholic Americans and then add a different holiday that celebrates religious diversity generally or other groups specifically.
posted by snottydick at 11:03 AM on October 10, 2013


My introduction to Bartolomé de las Casas was watching Even the Rain a few months back. Of course, you only get a few glimpses about him in that movie, since it focuses more on how colonialism is still screwing people over.

The main problem I have with Leif Erickson Day is that everyone pronounces it wrong.
posted by ckape at 11:10 AM on October 10, 2013


Really, have those of you with such righteous indignation about European Colonialism, savagery, slavery, and evil of white male Europeans never read or seen reliable documentaries about Pre-Columbian South and Central America and (less so) North America. Waves on invasions, conquests, subjugation etc. along the Western coasts of South America. Subjugation and slavery in central America...on and on and on. Do you want to move on to the Centuries of invasions and conquests with in Europe. As one who lives in Ireland I can tell you it was not a pretty place when the Norse swept into the sheltered coves and left little behind alive.
You want to vilify--fine--but vilify the very nature of mankind and not the the fashionable villain of the decade, era or century. And please, this is not in any way an apology or excuse for the evil done by Europeans to others cultures (or to other Europeans) but the relentless criticism of the European expansion does little to educate or enlighten as the the essential problems of expansion, discovery, tribalism, war or peace. It is almost always a matter of when and where you start and stop the clock in picking your victimizer and your victim.
As far as I am personally concerned--men have had their opportunities and I am all for trying a couple of centuries with women providing much of the political, economic and cultural leadership. Oh well.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:11 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


let's replace it with a holiday celebrating another community of faith that is widely discriminated against in this country - Muslims, maybe

Haven't you heard? President Obama has made November Muslim Appreciation Month!
posted by TedW at 11:13 AM on October 10, 2013


I meant by more specifically celebrating the contributions of a specific Muslim or a specific Mormon, but I hesitate to suggest names due to my own ignorance.
posted by muddgirl at 11:16 AM on October 10, 2013


Waves on invasions, conquests, subjugation etc. along the Western coasts of South America. Subjugation and slavery in central America...on and on and on. Do you want to move on to the Centuries of invasions and conquests with in Europe.

This is akin to the same tired old arguments that the Atlantic slave trade wasn't really that bad because when precolonial African nations warred amongst themselves, they took slaves from the populations of their defeated enemies.
posted by elizardbits at 11:22 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


What, last Election Day wasn't good enough?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:22 AM on October 10, 2013


My biggest issue with Christopher Columbus is his responsibility for the worst episode of the entire run of The Sopranos.

Well, that and all the slavery and colonialism and stuff.
posted by evil otto at 11:27 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Elizarbits--and what does your comment have to do with the factual accuracy of what I said rather than than your just being another faddish comment that jumps on a decades long bandwagon of just ( but useless) villification. Or did you mean the bit about women assuming political and economic leadership.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:29 AM on October 10, 2013


You want to vilify--fine--but vilify the very nature of mankind

It's cool, I really do hate most people, so it works out okay. Like I love the Romans but with the understanding that actually they were awesome at killing people, and their empire was eventually dispersed among people who were also really great at killing people. I would not generally recommend a We <3 Trajan day or anything like that, for example.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:29 AM on October 10, 2013


At our Major State-Run University (TM) we don't get Columbus Day off and it's not even mentioned around these parts, but we do get a day in January off for Cesar Chavez day. So there's that. I always forget about Columbus day until I don't get any mail....
posted by Sophie1 at 11:29 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I clearly did not in anyway minimize the human evil and tragedy of European expansion--it is just beyond me why these arguments are so selective in where they start and stop.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:30 AM on October 10, 2013


And I clearly did not in anyway minimize the human evil and tragedy of European expansion--it is just beyond me why these arguments are so selective in where they start and stop.

So it's your position that a discussion of a specific instance of colonial barbarism is somehow dishonest if it does not immediately segue to a discussion of indigenous barbarism in the same hemisphere?
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:37 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a skit from Saturday Night Live, right?

Our major holidays are...


Whatever handy pretexts whoever happens to be in power at the time tacks onto the holidays our ancestors have been celebrating since they crawled out of the caves. Midwinter. Harvest. Whatevs.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:40 AM on October 10, 2013


Yeah, if the Native Americans hadn't been enmeshed in such bitter rivalries when Europeans showed up, they might have banded together & pushed them back into the sea. The story of the European conquest of North America is incomplete without the picture of rivalries between tribes being astutely seized upon by the Spaniards & then the Americans to turn natives against one another instead of their common enemy, and lots of almost-alligiances & what-if's where a couple of old rivalries laid aside might have turned the balance, but alas. King Phillip's war in particular hinged on a miscue between two tribes who couldn't fully cooperate when push came to shove. Imagine the history of New England if the Bostonians had been wiped out then.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:41 AM on October 10, 2013


George_Spiggott--nope that is not my position--talk about it all you want and focus on whom you please. Just would be nice to once in while see the discussions, indignation and occasional righteousness put into a broader discussion or see it called by someone else.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:52 AM on October 10, 2013


Cabeza de Vaca? Yeah I don't see what could go wrong with "Cow-head Day".
posted by blue_beetle at 11:53 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Devils Rancher: Yeah, if the Native Americans hadn't been enmeshed in such bitter rivalries when Europeans showed up, they might have banded together & pushed them back into the sea. The story of the European conquest of North America is incomplete without the picture of rivalries between tribes being astutely seized upon by the Spaniards & then the Americans to turn natives against one another instead of their common enemy, and lots of almost-alligiances & what-if's where a couple of old rivalries laid aside might have turned the balance, but alas. King Phillip's war in particular hinged on a miscue between two tribes who couldn't fully cooperate when push came to shove. Imagine the history of New England if the Bostonians had been wiped out then.

I dunno, I think between the devastation wrecked by smallpox and the superior technology of the Europeans, the fate of the Native Americans was pretty much sealed. Imagine Europe if it were hit by two and a half black plagues at the same time. Their society was basically post-apocalyptic when we were interacting with it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:55 AM on October 10, 2013


Bear in mind also that the "what brutal savages the natives were" narrative has not exactly been absent from the conventional wisdom throughout colonial and US history. Rather the opposite, really.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:55 AM on October 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I dunno, I think between the devastation wrecked by smallpox and the superior technology of the Europeans, the fate of the Native Americans was pretty much sealed.

Yeah, it would have tipped things in favor of the French perhaps, with largely the same outcome in the long run. America would probably look pretty different, though.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:00 PM on October 10, 2013


And I clearly did not in anyway minimize the human evil and tragedy of European expansion--it is just beyond me why these arguments are so selective in where they start and stop.

Because European colonial expansion shaped the current white supremacist sociopolitical climate under which the descendants of colonized peoples still suffer.
posted by beefetish at 12:10 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah I don't see what could go wrong with "Cow-head Day".

The name Cabeza de Vaca is a badge of honor for his mother's family, granted in the 12th Century by King Sancho VII of Navarre to one of her ancestors, Martín Alhajahad, for marking with the skull of a cow a mountain pass through which Sancho's army could stage a surprise attack on the Almohad Moors in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, a turning point in the Reconquista.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:13 PM on October 10, 2013


Because European colonial expansion shaped the current white supremacist sociopolitical climate under which the descendants of colonized peoples still suffer.

A few years ago some colleagues were involved in teaching children in an indigenous tribe in South America. At the end of it they offered to give them certificates, which were written in Spanish. The tribespeople said "no, we would like them to be in English." When asked why, they basically said -- and this is highly paraphrased -- "Because Spanish is the language of our oppressors, but English is the language of their oppressors."
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:28 PM on October 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


I've just read Susan Cooper's new book, Ghost Hawk, which has a brief cameo from Squanto in it. There are some problems with it but to me it was an interesting read which pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pilgrims and the utter destruction that the European settlement brought to the Native American tribes.
posted by Fence at 12:29 PM on October 10, 2013


Ah yes, Mr Columbus, who never set foot on what is now the United States.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:35 AM on October 10


Columbus went to Puerto Rico

If holidays can't be for anything that's racist by modern standards, those involving events earlier than the mid 20th century are probably out. Thanksgiving equally celebrates the demise of indigenous Americans. Washington was a slave owner whose life was also bad for Native Americans.

I think that this kind of political correctness is silly.
posted by knoyers at 12:42 PM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I propose Vikings vs. Eunuchs day.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:48 PM on October 10, 2013


knoyers: If holidays can't be for anything that's racist by modern standards, those involving events earlier than the mid 20th century are probably out. Thanksgiving equally celebrates the demise of indigenous Americans. Washington was a slave owner whose life was also bad for Native Americans.

I think that this kind of political correctness is silly.


There's a difference between celebrating people who accomplished great things but may have had some flaws and celebrating completely evil people. Washington wasn't a perfect person and did some things we wouldn't approve of in the modern day. Columbus was a genocidal, enslaving monster. These are not equivalent.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:49 PM on October 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


Waves on invasions, conquests, subjugation etc. along the Western coasts of South America. Subjugation and slavery in central America...on and on and on.

I don't want a national holiday celebrating those either.

And I clearly did not in anyway minimize the human evil and tragedy of European expansion--it is just beyond me why these arguments are so selective in where they start and stop.

Did you miss the part where we're talking about a national holiday?
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:56 PM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


If holidays can't be for anything that's racist by modern standards, those involving events earlier than the mid 20th century are probably out. Thanksgiving equally celebrates the demise of indigenous Americans. Washington was a slave owner whose life was also bad for Native Americans.

Was there a straw man at the First Thanksgiving? I can never remember.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:00 PM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


If holidays can't be for anything that's racist by modern standards, those involving events earlier than the mid 20th century are probably out.

How about ones based on "events" in the "lives" of mythological characters like most of the religious holidays?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:02 PM on October 10, 2013


If holidays can't be for anything that's racist by modern standards, those involving events earlier than the mid 20th century are probably out. Thanksgiving equally celebrates the demise of indigenous Americans. Washington was a slave owner whose life was also bad for Native Americans.

How about March 4 to celebrate William Penn and the founding of the Quaker-led Pennsylvania Colony. It had freedom of religion way before it was cool, demilitarization, and an honest, fair relationship with the local First Nations. According to wikipedia

...the Quakers...treated Indians with respect, bought land from them voluntarily, and had even representation of Indians and Whites on juries. According to Voltaire, the Shackamaxon Treaty was 'the only treaty between Indians and Christians that was never sworn to and that was never broken.' The Quakers also refused to provide any assistance to New England's Indian wars.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:18 PM on October 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Government employees get Columbus Day off. I don't know of any private employer that does that, but I'm sure there are a few out there."

When I worked at Larry Flynt Publications, we got Columbus Day off, but not Martin Luther King jr. Day, because Larry Flynt is a big ol' goddamned racist.

(Now I work at a place where I don't get Columbus day off, but do get Cesar Chavez Day.)
posted by klangklangston at 1:29 PM on October 10, 2013


As to Columbus Day itself, I dunno, I think there's some value to taking a day to talk about all of Columbus's legacy, good and bad. I don't think everyone would know he was a child-raping genocider if not for having a day, you know? And I still do think that the first voyage was a huge, crazy risk that wildly increased humanity's worldview.
posted by klangklangston at 1:31 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh my god i found the poem i had to read in junior high.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:48 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


And I still do think that the first voyage was a huge, crazy risk that wildly increased humanity's worldview.

Perhaps not so much for that part of humanity whose worldview promptly became the underside of a dirtpile or the inside of a dog.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:48 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always forget about Columbus day until I don't get any mail....

In recent years, I've forgotten it until I'm told I don't need to come to work on Monday.
"Wait, didn't we just have a Monday off last month?"
"Yeah, but that was Labor Day."
"Oh, OK. I'll see you Tuesday!"
It's a fun game of "which holidays does this government entity deem valid?" Throw in Feast Days (which aren't observed by the State of New Mexico, but by the various tribal entities, so some schools are effectively closed on certain days), and the game gets even more lively.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:49 PM on October 10, 2013


klangklangston: As to Columbus Day itself, I dunno, I think there's some value to taking a day to talk about all of Columbus's legacy, good and bad. I don't think everyone would know he was a child-raping genocider if not for having a day, you know? And I still do think that the first voyage was a huge, crazy risk that wildly increased humanity's worldview.

As my kid grows up, I look forward to making these days as complex and confusing as possible.
"So last week we covered Lief Erickson Day, right?"
"Yeah, daaad."
"And this week, it's 'Columbus wasn't that great, and he didn't even make it to continental North America' "
"Mm-hmm."
"And you're totally clear that people were living in the so-called 'Americas' thousands of years before Columbus or Erickson"
"Yeaaah."
"Are you ready for a real twist: what if the Chinese Admiral Zheng He beat Columbus' fleet by 70 years?"
"But Lief ..."
"That's LAYF"
"OK, whatever, LAYF and his guys were here 500 years before that Chris guy, right?"
"That's the theory."
"So what makes Zengy so great"
"He came all the way from China!"
"Sure."
I'm imagining jr. light thief will be worn out by my crazy curve-balls of history at some time. Perhaps not, which will also be awesome.

In short: children are a land of contrast. Or something.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:03 PM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Perhaps not so much for that part of humanity whose worldview promptly became the underside of a dirtpile or the inside of a dog."

No, but the rest of the indigenous Americans learned about a whole 'nother couple continents they had no idea about.
posted by klangklangston at 2:09 PM on October 10, 2013


klangklangston: but the rest of the indigenous Americans learned about a whole 'nother couple continents they had no idea about.

... at the wrong end of a sword, and under the haze of diseases which they were wholly unprepared to physically handle. Howdy, neighbors!

I realize you're saying that information flowed both ways, but it seems that the best route is to waive a flag and say "hey, we're here and we can sort of try to communicate if you'd like, but if not, that's totally cool, too." Of course, humans at large haven't really figured out that Their Way is not the Best Way only in the relatively recent past, and even then, there are a lot of us who are pretty sure Everyone Else Is Still Doing It Wrong (but at least we won't threaten you if you don't agree with us).
posted by filthy light thief at 2:32 PM on October 10, 2013


I wrote upthread: Perhaps let's have a day to celebrate pushing boundaries and learning about people. I haven't thought of a catchy name or a poster person for this yet, but I'm sure y'all can help with that.

OK, here's my first idea for a name: "Meet Your Neighbors On Their Terms Day!" Here's my pitch:
Everyone is different, but different is OK! In fact, different is great! Think how boring it would be if everyone thought the same thoughts as you, or had only seen the same places as you have? What would you talk about? But not everyone is as comfortable making new friends as you are, so be polite and patient when talking to your neighbors. If they don't seem interested in talking to you, say thanks and wish them a good day. There are other people who you can talk to in your neighborhood!"
I haven't refined this for any age ranges or demographics, as there would be some need for disclaimers about how to safely talk to people you don't know.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:43 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


That whole disease thing is not a fair cop - it was pure happenstance that European germs were airborne and New World required whacka-whacka. No reason it could not have gone the other way round, and try to imagine modern history if that had been the case. I doubt most of us would be here now.

Speaking of history, Penguin has a decent collection of primary source documents in translation. For those who want to dig a little deeper.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:57 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was all way new to me. Thanks for posting it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:15 PM on October 10, 2013


Christopher Columbus: The last person to discover the Americas.
posted by ckape at 3:49 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


-Yeah I don't see what could go wrong with "Cow-head Day".

--The name Cabeza de Vaca is a badge of honor for his mother's family


"My grandfather told me it means 'Help, there's a hog in my kitchen!'"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:09 PM on October 10, 2013


Government employees get Columbus Day off. I don't know of any private employer that does that, but I'm sure there are a few out there.
It's also a Bank holiday - so bank employees also get the day off (although the stock market is open that day).


I've worked at two public college and a credit union over the last 13 years, and I think the last time I got Columbus Day off was maybe in junior high?

I think at the credit union they always sent out an email reminding everybody that there wouldn't be any mail, and maybe there was something about check processing because of the Fed being closed? (I was not a person who did anything with money, so I didn't pay much attention.)

As far as the comic, I just fell in love with the line that Columbus discovered America much as the asteroid discovered the dinosaurs.
posted by epersonae at 4:15 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


We could always replace Columbus Day with "Return Day", where the descendents off the invaders who perpetuated genocide and land theft are encouraged to emigrate back to Europe. By adding a mere 350 million people to the population of Europe, we could remove the people who benefited from the invasion of America. It's not enough of course, some compensation plan needs to be worked out. But it's a start.
posted by happyroach at 6:28 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a descendant of Tristão Vaz Teixeira, an explorer who knew Columbus and may have helped him by creating maps that would have been helpful to him in his travels, I would like to offer an open apology to any and all his work may have hurt.
posted by Jernau at 8:32 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


A bit late, but a plug here for my friend Patrick Huyghe's book Columbus Was Last...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:28 PM on October 10, 2013


odinsdream: "We have whole books that teach little kids about Columbus, and they obviously never even mention these literally insane things he did. So, yeah, I can see how a lot of people would perhaps end up as adults that think "what's the big deal?" like if you grew up only hearing about Hitler's paintings."

You know what's not fun to teach about? Genocide.
I totally get why children's book writers and teachers avoid it and choose the fun adventure story. The kids in one classroom will be at wildly different maturity levels and have vastly different tolerances/exposures to violent, scary, gruesome stuff or they don't have a clear concept of death and also think gore & violence is awesome. So you get all kinds of strong and/or horrifying reactions happening at the same time. Also, if I could never hear another child say a horrible, horrible racist thing, especially in this context, that would be super awesome.

That said, I am actually right this minute taking a break from trying to create/steal/cobble together a unit on The First Americans (Native Americans) for my middle-level-English Chinese 11th graders. I just decided to include CC in the next unit, since most Americans will have heard of him. A lot of the stuff I can find at the appropriate language level doesn't touch this stuff at all and/or presupposes a large amount of cultural knowledge.

But I'll be damned if my kids'll think he's some sort of hero.
posted by MsDaniB at 2:25 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


We should replace Columbus Day with Casino Day. It's in keeping with the theme of taking risk in the pursuit of gold, plus it's in service of repaying our historical debts.
posted by efbrazil at 1:09 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's depressing, but I can't help but think that, based on how Columbus Day came about, in 400 years or so they'll be celebrating "Hitler Day" in France, or "Stalin Day" in Poland, set up by some politicians who knew nothing about these guys except that they tried to unify Europe. And only history geeks will be pointing out "Hey, these guys were monsters!"
posted by happyroach at 7:58 PM on October 11, 2013


Not one suggestion for a Native Peoples' Day instead? We're looking for explorers and conquerors, but why not a holiday for the folks who beat ALL OF US to the continent.
COLUMBUS: I want to take a few of you guys back on the boat with me to prove I discovered you.

NATIVE: What you mean, you discover us? We discover you.

COLUMBUS: You discovered us?

NATIVE: Certainly. We discover you on beach here. Is all how you look at it.
#
posted by grubi at 8:24 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not one suggestion for a Native Peoples' Day instead?

I see I have been beaten to the idea altogether.
posted by grubi at 8:24 AM on October 16, 2013


To be fair, they did celebrate Columbus Day.

COLUMBUS: We going out on that joke?

NATIVE: No, we do reprise of song. That help.

COLUMBUS: But--

BOTH: --Not much, no.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:45 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, this is not “Bartolomé Day.”
posted by naoko at 8:53 AM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


You mean on top of everything else, this ship is rigged?
posted by grubi at 10:08 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mr. Grubi?

I'M FROM THE NATIONAL CONGRESS OF AMERIC--
*slam*

Okay I'll stop now.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:26 AM on October 16, 2013


Hey, that’s a pretty hard buffalo hide you got here on this teepee — I’d like to bust my knuckles!
posted by grubi at 12:33 PM on October 18, 2013


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