Tag Archives: Columbus

Columbus Day

You could easily miss that today is Columbus Day. Weirdest national holiday ever.

This summer I spent some time trying to teach Yeshumnesh a little American history. I think the greatest thing we learned is that I’m not a very good teacher. But we started off by going back to Columbus and I quickly realized how Euro-centric history is. I kept finding myself using words like “discovered” and “new world” and the rest, which is just bizarre considering all the indigenous people who had been living in this “new world” for centuries.

At the same time you can’t just discount the “discovery,” because it had tremendous implications for everyone. It meant tremendous opportunity and change for the European powers as they squabbled over a new-to-them corner of the world. And it meant genocide, slavery and destruction for the indigenous people who were quickly overwhelmed.

Much of that history is whitewashed when we talk about it and Columbus still gets the credit for “discovering the new world.” My favorite example is a timeline of the history of agriculture in the Americas that begins with Columbus.

I had a little trouble balancing all these issues as I tried to explain the backstory of American history. And in the end we have a holiday for a man who enslaved and brutalized native peoples. I get marking such a dramatic phase shift in history, but I wonder if focusing on the lone man is the best approach.