Today, most of the country is observing Columbus Day, which has been a federal holiday since 1937.
Celebrations honor Columbus for multiple feats, including the discovery of the New World and proving that the world was round. But many, if not most, of the myths surrounding Christopher Columbus have come under serious scrutiny.
Scholars had known for hundreds of years that the earth was round. As The Washington Post reports, writing about the earth as a sphere was part of the required reading for those attending university when Columbus was in school. He, and his colleagues, would certainly have already known that the earth was, in fact, round.
Nor did Columbus “discover” North America. He never set foot on the continent, The Washington Post continues, and it is further believed that Norse and Phoenician explorers reached the continent centuries before Columbus was born.
Even the names of his ships have been called into question, but these are by far the least damaging myths about the explorer that continue as a part of his legendary narrative.
Bill Bigelow, co-founder of the Zinn Education Project, posited in a piece for The Huffington Post that Columbus started the Trans-Atlantic slave trade when he sent the first ship full of hundreds of indigenous people back to Spain.
Columbus wrote extensively about his fervent belief in slavery, and his complete disregard for the humanity and dignity of the indigenous populations he encountered. He and his men committed horrifying atrocities in their search for what they were really after, and it wasn’t a new world – it was gold.
On top of the violence they experienced at the hands of the explorers, the indigenous people were also fighting a war against new diseases that they had never before encountered. The impact of this germ warfare combined with Columbus’ ruthless pillaging of these people and their land left the populations decimated in his wake.
The reality of his history, coupled with a movement invested in celebrating the indigenous tribes who populated the continent long before his arrival, has fueled a movement to replace Columbus Day with new holidays honoring the native populations of the Americas. Staring with South Dakota and Berkley, California in the early 1990’s, local and state governments have chosen to leave Columbus Day behind, or in some cases, to allow space to recognize both holidays.
This year, at least nine cities across America will celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, The Washington Post reports, with many more considering the change – including one city in Texas.
San Antonio’s City Council will soon take up a proposition to officially recognize Indigenous People’s Day, KSAT reported this week. A local member of the Christopher Columbus Italian Society told KSAT that they would support such a holiday, as long as it didn’t come at the expense of the celebration of Columbus. (His nationality – which was long assumed to be Italian – has also come into question.)
A spokesman from the Texas Indigenous Council, Antonio Diaz, agreed that the days should be separate. As currently proposed, the two days would only occasionally fall on the same day, as they did this year. Calling Columbus a “villain,” Diaz went on to express his opposition to Columbus Day in general, saying “He should not be honored by any people.”
As activists across the country continue to push local and state governments to replace the old celebrations of Columbus with a new recognition of America’s indigenous tribes, we can hope that a larger and more inclusive history of our nation’s beginnings becomes a part of the story we tell ourselves – and a part of who we are.