As a child, Christopher Columbus Day was a day of celebration at school. The week prior to this famed holiday, teachers would have us cut out ships or write reports on him. The children’ section at the Library would have a wide selection of books on him. Some with pictures, others even had pop-ups! We would come into class and present our reports and show off the pictures we found or drew of him or his famous ships…the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. It would be an exciting week at school, a week that would end with a star sticker on the board, next to our name or a big “Excellent” on our projects. But at home, Christopher Columbus Day would have an antagonistic effect.
I remember my father and mother nodding their heads in discontent. My mom would always chant, “Cristobal Colon murio por ladron!” (Christopher Columbus died because he was a thief!). My dad would tell me how he could not fathom the idea of learning lies in school. How could a learning establishment teach children to celebrate a man who helped sack and eliminate a goup of people…much like other so-called Conquistadors in Latin America. But my innocence and undoubting reliance on my teachers led to an argument. It wasn’t until I later learned to seek outside sources and found there was more to this man than a book with pictures and pop-ups. More than a gullible mind could comprehend.
Once Christopher Columbus set foot on the island of Hispaniola in 1492 it opened a door of greed. Enslavement seemed necessary and some form of directed labor & coercion would be essential to “civilize” a New World. Natives were soon enslaved and forced into hard labor conditions all in intentions of finding gold. Posterior to Columbus’ second voyage and ongoing search for gold the New World was terrorized, tortured, starved, enslaved, exploited and murdered. These Old World immigrants were left destitute after promises of wealth only became an empty dream and blood in their hands was a heavy price to pay in history.
Now I ask myself, WHY IS THIS A HOLIDAY? In 1934, Franklin Roosevelt established Christopher Columbus day as an official holiday. This day celebrated Catholic immigrants’ contribution in America throughout history. Columbus was conveniently used as a positive figure among immigrants in this country. At a time where immigrants of non-British descent were looked down upon, this day celebrated their presence in this country and hoped this day would encourage a socio-political acceptance of this group of people. But many were and are not aware the actual contribution this man made in history.
Today’s immigrants are Latinos. Many of whom come from Central & South America and the Caribbean. I, as many Latinos denounce this day. A day of celebration for some is a day of remembrance of the blood that has been shed by our ancestors not only in Christopher Columbus’ hands but in other Conquistadors’ hands as well. While many of us celebrate, “El Dia de la Raza”, I will keep asking myself why should it be Christopher Columbus Day? Why can there not be another day celebrating immigrants and diversity in general?? That would be a bit more conceivable.Follow @BellaCereja