Columbus: Hero, Villain or Terrorist?

I’ll admit it. I’ve never paid much attention to Columbus Day. I was considering that this morning during my 45 minutes on the elliptical trainer. No snail mail delivery. Banks and some schools closed. Federal government employees enjoying the long weekend.

As a little tyke growing up in the ‘Burg, it was all about: “1492. Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Wow. My first rap song. Of course, no need to memorize the date these days. You can google it. I digress.

And in all my years working at BFGoodrich — and later teaching at Kent State — Columbus Day was just, well, another work day. That didn’t diminish the day as a federal holiday or as a way for a significant number of Americans to take pride in their Italian heritage.

And I figured that even though it didn’t rank up there with the summer bookends — Memorial Day and Labor Day — who could complain about Columbus Day?

Oh, mama.

A small sample: Philadelphia has canceled its annual parade. Brown University renamed the holiday “Fall Weekend” after a Native American student group opposed celebrating an explorer “who helped enslave some of the people he discovered.” And it’s been 11 years since Columbus, Ohio, has held an official parade to mark the day or the city’s namesake.

Those examples come from a article by Conor Dougherty and Sudeep Reddy, “Is Columbus Day Sailing Off the Calendar?” Here’s an excerpt:

But 22 states don’t give their employees the day off, according to the Council of State Governments. And in other places, Columbus Day is under attack. “We’re going after state governments to drop this holiday for whatever reason they come up with,” said Mike Graham, founder of United Native America, a group fighting for a federal holiday honoring Native Americans.

His group’s agenda: Rename Columbus Day “Italian Heritage Day” and put it somewhere else on the calendar, then claim the second Monday in October as “Native American Day.” South Dakota already calls it that.

Other organizations want to rename the day “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” as several California cities, including Berkeley, have done.

Columbus’s defenders aren’t prepared to watch their hero’s holiday sail off the edge of the earth. They say he should be celebrated for risking his life to explore the world and for forging modern ties between Europe and the Americas.

His supporters acknowledge Columbus took slaves back to Spain and opened the door to conquistadors who killed Native Americans. But much of the criticism is built on “judging a 16th century man by 21st century standards,” says Dona De Sanctis of the Order Sons of Italy in America, a group of half a million Italian-Americans that tries to defend Columbus’ legacy.

Wow. Glad I didn’t have to fret about all that as a kid.

Oh well.  Today I’m enjoying a day off — although when you are quasi-retired even that notion takes on new meaning. Still, I’m working part time now with an organization in Washington, Corporate Voices for Working Families, and for some reason that isn’t totally clear the offices are closed today. Probably has something to do with the federal government shutting down.

Hey, I’m not complaining. And I’m not dismissing the views of people who apparently have strong beliefs that we shouldn’t be celebrating Columbus Day.

Yet for me, for the first time ever, I’ll embrace Columbus Day as a holiday.



One response to “Columbus: Hero, Villain or Terrorist?

  1. Today is “Native American Day” in South Dakota.

    Discovered: New painting of Columbus.


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