I wrote this piece in 2013 and five years later, it’s just as relevant with regards to both the good and bad (but mostly bad) of Columbus Day.
Columbus Day has always been a holiday I’ve hated. Back when I was a kid, I never understood how Columbus could possibly have “discovered” something that had people on it. (Later, of course, I learned that he never even made it to North America, only arriving at the Bahamas and never getting that far.) Plus, of course, he was allegedly searching for Asia, so he not only allegedly “discovered” North America, he also mistook it for somewhere else entirely. And this guy gets a holiday?
The more I learned, the less impressed I was. The Oatmeal nicely sums up just how repugnant a human being Columbus was (thanks to fellow Chronic Rift-ee Krissy Myers for the link), but the short version is that he was a racist tyrannical homicidal gold-digging fucknut. A lot of the bullshit about Columbus that has been perpetrated over the years comes directly from an 1828 book by Washington Irving entitled A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, which was more of a hagiography than a biography, and also purest horseshit — but it’s the source of most of the rote myth surrounding Columbus that most people believe.
Having said that, the holiday comes from a good place. Columbus Day became a holiday in the 1930s after lobbying by the Knights of Columbus to have a federal holiday that showed the contributions of Italians and Catholics to American history. See this NPR article as well as this American Interest article (thanks to, respectively, The Mom and SM Rosenberg), [NOTE: The American Interest article seems to have disappeared into the aether, but the NPR piece is still there] but the short version is that Italians and Catholics were both heavily discriminated against in this country, and the Knights were working to reverse that prejudice. Still, while their motive were good ones — speaking as an Italian American, I can safely say that we’re still marginalized (I challenge folks to find a substantive number of Italian characters in pop culture who aren’t mobsters and/or caricatures, especially compared to the number of WASPs and Irish characters) — they really made a crummy choice of role model.
The Oatmeal suggests instead celebrating Bartolomé Day, after Bartolomé de las Casas, who was also a racist fucknut explorer, but who later in life repented and fought for the rights of the natives who were enslaved and murdered by Europeans. After all, redemption stories are way cooler than whitewashed genocide.
Or we could just call it “Monday.” Hell, I’m a freelancer, federal holidays don’t mean much to me…………..
(This post grew out of a discussion on Facebook. Feel free to add to the discussion here or there.)