Columbus Day: Should history be rewritten?

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Post Office, banks and government buildings are closed today for Columbus Day, but not in Austin, Texas, where they are closed for Indigenous Peoples Day.

The same goes for places like San Francisco, Seattle and Denver, which have done away with Columbus Day, over concerns that the explorer did not actually “discover” the New World, and helped enslave and decimate and people who were already living there.

Italian Americans are protesting, say the change takes away one of the most important times to recognize their heritage, a holiday established when they were a denigrated group of immigrants.

Some Indigenous Peoples advocates, on the other hand say it’s not appropriate to celebrate their heritage on a day established to honor a man who set out to wipe them out.

The debate over Columbus’ role in American history is as heated as the one that has led to removal of monuments to Confederate heroes in the South and elsewhere — a debate in Ohio, threatened to be so contentious that mediators had to be brought in to sooth tensions.

Authorities were on alert for the annual Columbus Day parade in New York, and demonstrators dressed in chains and a white hood disrupted a wreath-laying ceremony at the Columbus statue in Columbus Circle.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat and Italian-American faced negative feedback when he commissioned a committee to decide whether monuments to certain historical figures should be removed.

The Indigenous Peoples movement gained steam with the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage, with South Dakota adopting Native America Day in 1990 and Berkley, Calif., dropping Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992.

They say that history is written by the victors, and such an argument can be made when it comes to European settlement of the Americas, as well as the Civil War and later conflicts — with the possible exception of the Vietnam War.

Any history is necessarily viewed through the lens of subsequent events, and proper interpretation is vital to avoiding mistakes of the past.

But rewriting history to conform with shifting popular opinion is dangerous as well. Isis’ destruction of non-Islamic historical sites comes to mind, as well as a quote from Napoléon Bonaparte:

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”


Should Columbus Day be replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day? Vote here.

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