Recently there’s been some buzz about the city of Seattle renaming Columbus Day to ‘Indigenous People Day’. This contentious decision has been polarizing, which is akin to the argument between writing ‘happy holidays’ or ‘merry Christmas’ on your late December greeting cards. However, in online polls I have researched it seems that 70% of the people seem to be in favor of renaming it– whatever that’s worth.
I am not here to convince anybody that Christopher Columbus was a great man and is worthy of a holiday– as he was not and does not. But I think there are many sides to this argument that are worthy of examination. I went online and reviewed various different arguments for both perspectives and I will break down the ones that have relevance:
Reason to keep #1:
The holiday could be abstracted from the notion of Columbus and be seen as a symbolic holiday that celebrates the discovery of New Land– with Columbus as the metaphor for this discovery.
Then we could rename the holiday ‘Discovery Day’
Reason to keep #2:
Even though Christopher Columbus was a horrible person, celebrating this holiday is a tradition and the tradition, in of itself, has value that we should honor.
As the Christians appropriated Pagan holidays for their own use, so can we. Renaming is not a big deal.
Reason to rename/remove #1:
Christopher Columbus was a horrible person that committed unethical atrocities and perpetuating his legacy with positivity is disrespectful to the lives of the people he destroyed.
Reason to rename/remove #2:
He didn’t actually discover America—its just plainly and simply historically inaccurate to state that he did.
In light of these four different perspectives I am going to argue in favor of keeping the holiday as is. My argument, like Columbus, begins in Spain. At the eastern end of Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas is the Christopher Columbus plaza and standing right in the center of the plaza is a tall statue of him starring off in the distance. Traversing from this plaza West on the Las Ramblas or South on Av. Del. Parallel you will encounter an experience that is unique to Barcelona: Eclecticism Architecture. As you walk down either of these main streets of the historic Barcelona city centre you will find one of the greatest examples of Eclecticism Architecture. This style of architecture is rooted in the idea of being eclectic (just like you’d assume)– taking many styles and infusing them as one. As you walk down these streets you will encounter the organic style of Gaudi, 12th century Gothic, Nasrid style (borrowed from the Moors), the Asturian style, hints of Baroque and Roman influence, Neoclassical, Catalan Modernisme, some goofy looking house from the 70’s that stands out like a sore thumb, a GAP clothing store that looks like it’s out of the 1980’s, a clean-line modern 21st century glass office building and the broken remains of the wall that was once surrounded the city. You can see all of this in a single walk through downtown Barcelona.
As you may be asking: what the #&%@ does this have to do with celebrating Columbus Day? Don’t worry I will get there soon.
Several years ago I was in Barcelona exploring the eclectic styles of the city and part of this exploration included Antonio Gaudi’s famous La Perdrera apartment building. There was a tour guide giving tours of this famous building, and although, I would not expect him to be giving Keynote Addresses at an International Architecture Conference, he was shockingly well informed on the architectural styles of Barcelona. I asked him, as I stood on the rooftop sculpture-garden of La Pedrera, what’s the deal with this ridiculous hodge-podge of architecture? In all honesty, from that rooftop perspective it did look pretty ridiculous. His elegant and simple response has stayed with me for years and I find it incredibly insightful and very relevant to this debate:
“Barcelona has a very rich and tragic history, which is evident in our architecture and culture. We do not change anything, because to remove your history, is to forget your history.”
I believe history classes should teach the true American Story. Columbus was a murdering, slave trading, imperialistic sociopath- this should be explicitly taught. That is what should be taught and that is what the holiday should be about. This holiday does not symbolize discovery and human progress, but it does symbolize the very bloody history that America is built upon and the evidence of this should not be removed or forgotten.
You may say that changing the name to Indigenous People Day does this, as it draws attention away from Columbus and refocuses it on the victims of America’s deep and dark history. And this is true.
However, there is one more point to my argument that will explain why the name must remain as is. If we begin to properly educate children about the true story of Columbus and the trail of destruction he left in his path, you may have a child who kindly raises their hand and speaks to the elephant in the room: “Why are we celebrating the birth of such a horrible person?”
To this, the teacher should reply, “It is true that America was built from the product of human suffering and crimes against humanity; and it is also true that Christopher Columbus was guilty of these things. But, America is also guilty of another atrocious act, which in some regard, trumps all other atrocities because it’s historical ramifications are much more pervasive: America is guilty of retroactively changing history for her own means. In short: She’s guilty of a historical conspiracy.”
It is not a necessity in society to sugar-coat and douse everything and anything that’s painful in metaphorical bleach. I want my future children to know the truth about Columbus day and when they do, I want them to hang their heads in shame and feel the weight of our history, the pain of our past and, most importantly, be emotionally and intellectually cognizant of this simple truth:
The United States of America was built in blood.
We have no reference of who we are; unless we know who we were.
We have no reference of where to go; unless we know where we’ve been.
And as Christopher Columbus resides tall over the Barcelona port with eyes affixed on the horizon— he symbolically, and ironically, guides the human story in the right direction….