Sunday, September 18, 2016

Columbus discovered America

A decade or so ago, I met my cousin's son for the first time.

He might have been about eight or nine years old back then.  He hesitantly walked up to me and asked, in English, "you live in America?"

"Yes. I have been there for a long, long time now."

The kid was now feeling a tad more confident. "We learnt in school that Columbus discovered America."

I could not let go off the teacher within me.  "Oh, really! Terrific!" And then I added, "so, Columbus discovered America?"

"Yes. That is what the teacher told us."

That's how I, too, was told when I was a school kid his age.

"So, before Columbus discovered America, there were no people there? He was the first person to go to America?" I asked him.

"No. Our teacher said there were people there."

"So, if there were people there already, then it means that somebody discovered America before Columbus did, right?"

The kid was stunned. He hadn't thought about it.  Here he was trying to impress his uncle, and little did he know that I am Major Buzzkill ;)

Thanks to Columbus, who originally set sail to India, we have ended up referring to as Indians a whole bunch of different peoples with different cultures and traditions in an entirely different part of the world! I joke with students that "I am an Indian from India, and not an Indian from here" whenever I want to highlight this insane historical accident.

Columbus Day is a federal holiday and in some of the states.  No holiday for us here in Oregon.  (We memorialize Columbus Day in our own strange ways!)

Seriously, why are we celebrating Columbus?  I don't have anything against Columbus per se.  He was merely an explorer, who was a product of the times.  But, it is not as if he accomplished something spectacular.  Magellan or Vasco da Gama were far better explorers.  And then the baggage related to Columbus.  So, why honor him with a special day?

I like how some of the progressive cities mark that day as Indigenous People's Day.  Perhaps can be observed in many, many countries around the world.  India, Australia, New Zealand, all the countries in North and South America, ... it is a long list of countries where the original inhabitants have been pushed aside--to say the least--to make space for the newcomers.

Turns out that I am way late to the party; Wikipedia says that it is old news.
In 1994, the United Nations declared an International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, but, concerned about upsetting some member nations, chose August 9 instead of the traditional Columbus Day.
WTF! A few countries "upset" about this?  Oh yeah, history is always from the perspective of the rich and the powerful :(


Anne in Salem said...

Columbus deserves some bit of recognition. Regardless of the deplorable actions of the Europeans who followed, he was the first European to reach (eventual) US soil. That is an achievement to be heralded. He should not be blamed for broken treaties, diseases, slavery and everything else wrought by European men centuries after he sailed the oceans blue.

Ramesh said...

There are just too many "days" celebrated that they have lost their meaning . One more special day means absolutely nothing.

As an explorer, Columbus was certainly in the top league along with the others you have mentioned. Not sure whether Cortes and Pizzaro are celebrated with holidays in Mexico and Peru respectively. Probably not.

Sriram Khé said...

Oh, he deserves recognition, yes. But, not with a federal holiday!

Hmmm ... I hadn't thought about whether the South American countries "honor" Columbus and other early Europeans with public holidays in their names ... I refuse to Google to find the answer ;)

Anne in Salem said...

I can't imagine any Central or South American country honoring Cortez!! With him, there is a direct link to death and destruction.

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