Christopher Columbus was a European explorer who exploited and enslaved native people in the Americas, but we should still celebrate his holiday on Oct. 9.
Although his legacy is rightfully tarnished by his acts under Spanish authority, his arrival to the New World should be celebrated and discussed, not covered up and forgotten by revision.
Columbus’ landing proclaimed the arrival of Europe into uncharted territory and the beginning of a cultural bridge that stretched across the Atlantic Ocean. The initial purpose of this connection was for imperialistic gain for Spain, but the long term effect of this Old World vs. New World clash was greater.
After the pillaging, enslavement and pain, what was left was a beautiful mix of blood and culture. The intermixing between Spaniards, indigenous peoples and African slaves created what is affectionately known as the ‘cosmic race.’
For this reason, Columbus Day is celebrated as “Dia de la Raza,” or “day of the race,” in Latin America to commemorate the beginning of Latino culture. Latinos would not exist without Columbus and his treacherous journey across the Atlantic, and the mark he left in Latin America is more significant than only the bad things he did while here. The mark he left still runs through the blood of Latinos across the Americas.
An example of Latino celebration of Columbus was when Puerto Rico erected a 350-foot statue of the explorer last year to commemorate his harrowing journey. The statue is taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York.
In contrast, activists in the United States are trying to intimidate leaders to remove statues of the explorer, like in New York City last month. They are attempting to erase a key moment in the birth of Latino culture in the name of justice for indigenous people. The day of Columbus arriving in the New World is more complex than the notion that he solely brought pain, suffering and imperialism to Latin America.
Columbus is not only an important figure for Latinos, but also for Italian-Americans. Even though he sailed under the Spanish flag, Christopher Columbus was Italian. There are over a half million spectators present for New York City’s Columbus Day Parade, and it is the largest celebration of Italian-American culture in the world. The explorer is an influential figure for people across multiple backgrounds.
But Christopher Columbus’ legacy becomes more unpopular each year. Many states, including Oregon, do not recognize the federal holiday of Columbus Day with a day off for state workers. In lieu of Columbus Day, many cities and states have opted to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day.
The celebration of Columbus is difficult to balance without overshadowing the Native American side of history. Columbus became an overshadowing and almost mythological figure in history, and his story sucked all the oxygen out of the room when it came to analyzing the history of the New World. Indigenous history should not be erased, and the stories and perspectives of those people then and now should be celebrated in conjunction with Columbus.
However, celebrating Columbus is not synonymous with absolving him of his flaws. Having a day to commemorate the larger-than-life moment — the opening of the Western Hemisphere to Europe – does not endorse his bad deeds.
Yes, Columbus was a brutal colonizer. No, there is never an excuse for slavery. But what does anyone gain by trying to suppress a controversial date in history?
By doing so, the tide of anti-Columbus sentiment has disrespected an imperative piece of Latino heritage and the cosmic race. Observe Columbus Day with all the good, bad and momentous aspects that come with it.