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October 10, 2005

Columbus Day -- the fight over history

The 'Italian Christopher Columbus' painted by Tim Eger In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

There's hardly an American adult alive who didn't learn that mnemonic as a grade schooler.

Today there's hardly another historical figure that is such a flashpoint of competing views, from Visionary Hero to Degenerate Villain.

An interesting look at the holiday, rather than the man, comes from the LA Times:

But whichever way you come down on the Columbus debate, here's the good news: Columbus Day in the United States is not really about Columbus anyway. Nor is it about 1492; in fact, it's about 1892, the year President Benjamin Harrison issued the proclamation establishing a day to honor the "400th anniversary of the discovery of America."
The writer, Stanford Prof. Sam Wineburg, goes on to say the late 1800's was a time of unprecented immigration, and by 1910 Italians constituted "10% of the nation's foreign-born population." As the Italians, along with the Irish, Poles and Portuguese, were looked upon with suspicion and hostility by the American Protestants --
Catholics badly needed a hero. And what better symbol to mobilize and Americanize these immigrants than one of their own? Columbus — discoverer of the New World but born in the Italian port city of Genoa — was a logical choice. As an editorial in the 1878 Connecticut Catholic put it, no one was more deserving "of grateful remembrance than the great and noble man — the pious, zealous, faithful Catholic … Christopher Columbus."
Here was an attempt to help integrate a mass of immigrants into the American Experiment, to add their traditions and heros to the ever growing and changing American culture.

Some would have Columbus as the symbol for all White Evil™, not only here but in the world. As a racist professor at Kent State rants

At the outset, it must be stated quite clearly that we Afrikan people, are the original, majority people with original ideas. Europeans are only an inherited, transmitting global minority people. Europeans did not invent, create or discover culture nor civilisation; they just inherited them and in some cases, stole them. ...

Christopher Columbus ... the contemporary world's first serial killer, murderer, despot, criminal and genocidal maniac, besides being an unabashed liar and thief.

In an act reminiscent of the Taliban blowing Buddahist statues or radical athiests trying to destroy the Mt. Soledad War Memorial in San Diego, supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez destroyed a 100 y/o statute of Columbus in Carracas on 10/12/04.

Columbus was a symbol of pride for immigrants who needed a hero, and Columbus is a symbol for political identity purposes to castigate and denigrate anything European or "white."

However, somewhere between the polarizing screeds lays the historical act of a single man, driven by his own motives, to sail into the unknown. An act which changed the world.

Posted by Darleen at October 10, 2005 09:00 AM