Monday, October 11, 2010
Happy Columbus Day
Today is the day set aside by the government to celebrate the intrepid explorer Christopher Columbus. Yet, few seem to really celebrate the occasion. There are invariably protesters, usually from the Native American communities, and counter-protesters, usually from the Italian American community that make their charges and counter-charges but most do not give much thought to Chris Columbus. Lately he has acquired a rather politically incorrect reputation and Columbus Day (or la Dia de la Raza as it is often known in these parts) passes with little notice. Although I am often at odds with federally mandated holidays, this is one I think has been given an (undeserved) bad reputation and people should at least be told why Christopher Columbus was so significant.
He was not, as we all should know by now, the first to “discover” America. However, it was his discovery that mattered. The Old World was introduced to the New and the race was on amongst the great powers of the day to explore, claim and settle the new lands. This is, of course, why many Native Americans make it a point to be upset on Columbus Day. Being of partial native ancestry myself I still cannot totally understand this attitude. It makes as little sense to me as would blaming Benjamin Franklin for the electric chair. However, it did all start with Columbus and here is where I get very upset with the anti-colonialist/imperialist crowd. Even those that are not too strident on the subject will at the very least voice the opinion that the nations of Europe should have just stayed home and never colonized anyone. Although I understand where they are coming from with all of the grief the former colonial powers are given these days, such an attitude rather horrifies me. Without European colonization neither my country nor myself would exist.
Christopher Columbus was not, of course, some horribly wicked villain (neither was he a saint naturally). He was a very religious man who took a keen interest in the Bible and Biblical prophecies and in times of peril at sea would order his hard-bitten sailors to pray. Of course we also cannot forget that his great discovery would not have been possible without the support of the “Catholic Monarchs” King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. It is also worth pointing out, at least it is these days, that Columbus expected to profit from his discoveries. In our very socialistic times one has to wonder if someone would take similar risks and brave similar unknowns without the chance of reward. In any event, although it was not the India he thought it was, Christopher Columbus did make history and set things in motion for the rise of the western hemisphere, the founding of new world powers and the, inadvertent, decline of some nations and the rise of new peoples unique to the Americas.