Today is the second Monday of October. To most of people, its Columbus day. I feel particularly strongly about the commemoration of this Spanish “explorer”
My family is South Asian so Columbus technically was looking for my ancestors and their spices when he ended up in the Americas. My parents and I had several conversations throughout my childhood about colonialism and how “great” these European “explorers” really were. Maybe that’s why I am so surprised by people who revere Columbus. One recent incident really shocked my system.
A couple of weeks ago in my international social justice class, we were discussing the recent walk out in Colorado organized by high school students in protest of curriculum changes. These new changes would encourage “patriotism” by intentionally omitting civil disobedience and protests. This spurred a discussion in class prompted by our professor about what children should and should not learn in school. Of course, somebody had to play devil’s advocate and argue that teaching children the actual truth about how America was “discovered” and built would not be beneficial to young students.
As a brown, Muslim child of color growing up in a post 9/11 world, I have to say I had a hard time wrapping my head around this. I never had the privilege of not learning about the ugliness of the world. When I countered my peers comments with my own experiences, I was interrupted several times by other students who said “but you didn’t know what racism was when you were little”. On the contrary, I was called everything from “towel head” to “P*ki”. My professor did not interject and allowed for this truly ridiculous conversation to go on. Then she proceeded to compare the choice of telling children about the realities of our history with the decision to tell children about Santa Claus.
I feel as though this particular conversation exemplifies America’s complicated relationship with history. For white students, there is a choice in deciding whether or not they will become informed of the realities of history. For students of color, there is a sense of erasure. Our experiences and histories are deemed irrelevant. I can only deduce that this is how so many people are totally content with celebrating Columbus.
Columbus did not “discover” anything. There was an established people living on the land he arrived on with a rich culture and way of life. The lasting effects of Columbus are present throughout indigenous communities all across the Americas. So, for this reason (which is super obvious), Columbus day observations should end. But don’t worry, we can still enjoy the extra day, and use it to celebrate the land, cultural and people of the Americas.
Happy Indigenous Peoples Day folks.