Last week, Mateo Sundberg contributed an Op-Ed column about Columbus Day that has surfaced into conversations around my community. In his column, he argues that Columbus Day should be discussed and celebrated because Columbus’ contribution to Latinxs outweighed all the damage he created. I believe Sundberg’s column ignores the harsh reality of colonization and the generations of pain that come with it.
Sundberg states that “after the pillaging, enslavement and pain, what was left was a beautiful mix of blood and culture.” This is a wrongful interpretation of history because it insinuates that all the pain that continues from the colonization of Latin America is obsolete when in fact we continue to suffer from the consequences of colonization. As the school rhyme tells us: Columbus came to the Americas in 1492, and the last Latin American country to end slavery was Brazil in 1838. So historically, the beauty began after 1838.
The “pillaging” (which is defined as “to rob [a place] using violence”) never ended. Europe and the United States largely exploited Latin America’s natural resources with events like the banana massacre in Columbia and the gold mines in Northern Peru.
In Sundberg’s article, “the beautiful mix of blood and culture” was worth it. But did it really mix well? The “cosmic race” was an idea made in 1925 by Mexican politician and writer Jose Vasconcelos. Vasconcelos’ ideas over the “cosmic race” pushed ethnic superiority by describing indigenous people as “savages” and “undeveloped” compared to the European colonizers. The colonizers created a hierarchy of race in castas, which were paintings that labeled mixed race offspring of colonizers, giving degrading titles to groups of people who moved further away from whiteness such as Lobo (wolf/dog) and Salto Atras (jump back). These paintings are important because they set up the deeply ingrained colorism that is alive and well in Latinx culture. So alive that some of these titles are used today among Latinx people.
The idea of the “cosmic race” has been romanticized, but we cannot forget that this idea punishes those who do not show the “light skin” mixing that was pictured. This is why Latin America has a deeply rooted problem with colorism and favoring whiteness.
Sundberg then brings up “Dia de la Raza” that is celebrated throughout Latin America as “the beginning of Latino culture.” The problem with Dia de la Raza is that it is erasing the bloody reality of colonization. Through the long history of racial hierarchy in our culture, objects that are associated with Europe are put on a pedestal, while those associated with indigenous and African cultures are seen as savage—as we can see in the castas. Dia de la Raza is a problem in our Latinx community because it celebrates ethnic cleansing that was forced on our people.
“The celebration of Columbus is difficult to balance without overshadowing the Native American side of history.” To start off, there is no Native American side of history. The way that colonizers have masscared, enslaved and raped indigenous people is history. If anyone wants to know the true face of history, they must look at it through the eyes of the Black and indigenous people in the Americas. There are no sides, there is only truth.
“Yes, Columbus was a brutal colonizer. No, there is never an excuse for slavery. But…” There is no “but” because there is no excuse for slavery. There is no “but” when talking about the genocide of Black Americans and the suffering that continues in all communities because of it.
Finally, there is a difference between what Sundberg discussed as history being “covered up and forgotten by revision” and simply not glorifying it. It is not forgetting the brutal genocide that Columbus created to Latin America but rather the refusal to glorify the man who murdered, rape and created a long—and still vibrant—history of colorism and internalized racism in the Latin American community.