Around this time last year I asked my then five year old cousin what Christopher Columbus did: “He sailed her on the Mayflower and ate dinner with the Indians!” Wrong. For so many reasons. Today the United States government is recognizing Columbus Day—there are parades, some people get time and a half, and kindergarteners across the land are learning all sorts of lies. That’s the thing though, they are learning all sorts of lies. We are celebrating lies. I don’t think that it would be too difficult to find enough people not interested in celebrating imperialism, genocide, racism, and rape to swear off the holiday forever. So why don’t we?
Columbus’ accidental landing in the Americas changed the world forever, obviously. For this reason the holiday probably is worth recognizing, but certainly not for the reasons that we recognize it in the US. If my cousin is not mature enough to learn about what Columbus really did, she should at least be saved from the cutesy stories about the admirable guy who “discovered” the Americas and made friends with the natives. The second Monday of October should NOT be recognized for Columbus, but for the natives alive and gone who occupied these lands thousands of years before “the first encounter”.
This semester my friend Sara and I have an internship at a center for Mapuche women and children. Mapuche are some of the indigenous peoples native to Chile. The women that we work with invited us to join them in the “Marcha junto al pueblo Mapuche” (march together with the Mapuche people) which took place this morning in the center of Santiago. The event’s Facebook page says: Marchemos por la liberación de nuestro pueblo, por la libertad de nuestros prisioneros políticos; por nuestro derecho a la autodeterminación y al territorio; por nuestros derechos educativos y lingüísticos (We march for the liberation of our people; for the liberty of our political prisoners; for our right to self-determination and to land; for our educational and linguistic rights). One of our friends explained to us that thousands of Mapuche from communities all over Chile come to Santiago every year to participate in the march to show the world that “Todavía existen. Todavía estamos aquí” (They still exist. We are still here).
I want to live in a country that celebrates all of its citizens.
Let’s not be ignorant. Let’s not pretend that Christopher Columbus was not a terrible man whose actions had even more terrible consciences. Let’s instead celebrate Native American cultures. Let’s celebrate people who have lost their homelands, languages, and lives. Even more importantly, let’s celebrate the people who are still here despite imperialism. Let’s teach kindergarteners about indigenous communities near their homes. Let’s recognize the issues that face Native Americans today. Columbus is dead; he doesn’t have any problems.
I want to live in a country that celebrates this: