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Why do we still celebrate Columbus?

Gina Ricketts
Letter to the Editor

On October 12, our nation celebrated the exploits of Christopher Columbus with parades, bank and federal office closures and a day off for students here at COCC. I have often wondered why we have made a national holiday for a man who is also known to have launched the wholesale destruction of millions of indigenous people in North America.

The history of Christopher Columbus usually begins in kindergarten. We are taught, through crafts and songs ( “In fourteen hundred
and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue?”) that this is the man who “discovered” America, ignoring the fact the millions of peoples inhabited the North American continent for 15,000 years previously to his ending up on this continent. We are taught that he is an American Hero and a most admirable explorer.

We are not taught that the Taino people (yes, they had a name) who were the first people he met, numbered in the millions but were reduced to extinction in 30 years by warfare with Columbus’s followers, forced labor, starvation and disease. Under his leadership, the Spanish attacked the Taino, sparing neither men, women nor children. Columbus’s own journal states, “We shall take away your goods and shall do all the harm and damage that we can.”

We are not taught that three of Columbus’s motivations for exploration were gold, wealth through the slave trade and the religious beliefs of Christianity. On his second voyage, he began fulfilling his second goal; he captured 1500 Tainos, herded them back to his ship where 550 of the best males and females were headed for the slave markets of Seville, Spain. Again, his journal states, “We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command.”

As Americans, perhaps a better way to observe October 12 is to remember and celebrate the true First Americans and their contributions to this wonderfully diverse country we live in. A first step toward honoring their sacrifice is to cease the celebration of a man and his followers who instigated the first genocide that this continent experienced. The second step is to continue to work to stop the injustice of those who are still victims of exploitation and racism. And the third step is that if this is all new information to you or you would like to continue this dialogue, please, stop by the Multicultural Office, Room 114, in the Campus Center Building.

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