Columbus Day: Why the Controversy?

By: Liam Gorbutt, Staff Reporter

Monday, October 9, 2017, celebrated a very controversial anniversary in the United States’ history, the 80th anniversary of the federal holiday Columbus Day. Despite it being a holiday in which many schools and businesses close to honor Christopher Columbus, in recent years the celebration has been a cause for both controversy and protest.

To many, the holiday represents not only the accomplishments of Columbus, the son of middle class wool-weaver who became a noble and brave explorer and gave bountiful hope and freedoms to the destitute, but also Italian-American history and the discovery of the Americas.

For others, however, the annual October holiday is immoral, and they believe it should be amended, as it celebrates the hardship the Native Americans experienced upon and after Columbus’s arrival; the pillaging of their villages, the introduction of alien diseases, the forced Proselytism and acceptance of European culture and beliefs, and the enslavement of their people.

Many feel that the discoverer of the New World signifies racism and the oppression of the indigenous people of the continent, as well as inaccuracies of history.

“Detractors argue Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus brought along slavery, disease, and death when he colonized the Caribbean for Spain, and should therefore not be hailed as a hero,” writes Aine Cain in her October 6, 2017 Business Insider piece.  

However, according to Cain, “Proponents of Columbus have labeled efforts to topple the holiday as a case of political correctness run amok, arguing that the man is an important part of Italian American heritage.”

Thornton-Donovan School students appeared to agree with the detractors of Columbus Day. Jordan Drew ’18 remarked, “Columbus Day is the perfect example of ignorance in America, just like people do in business and social interactions today”

Meanwhile, Olivia Cahill ‘19 said, “With social norms and the way things are done and handled in America changing so fast, Columbus Day is a good day to really look at your values and decide who you are and who you aren’t. I spent my day off figuring out who I was as a person and figuring out ways I could change my actions to reflect that.”

While the majority of Americans accepted that there was no mail delivery, the bank closed and they might not have had to go to work or school, a minority took action. Over the years, many protests and rallies have taken place on Columbus day in an attempt to change its purpose, with some protesters hoping to simply remove the holiday’s federal significance, while others want to morph the holiday into Indigenous People’s day, celebrating the Native Americans.

“A number of cities across America have already swapped it for Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” Cain writes.

On Randall’s Island in New York City this year, an Indigenous People’s Day celebration took place. This “re-thinking of Columbus day” hosted by the Redhawk Native American Arts Counsel boasted music, art, dance, vendors, and guest speakers to celebrate the native peoples of the Americas.

As Bob Dylan sings, it appears as if “the times, they are a changin’.”