Columbus: Hero or Villain?
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But is what happened after that sail worth celebrating?
by Akshitha Sahu
As the world grows and changes, new issues arise and old ones fall away. An ideal that may have once seemed renowned may now seem fickle to some. One such issue is the controversy surrounding Columbus Day, a holiday celebrating the success of Christopher Columbus. In our history classes, we look to Christopher Columbus as a brave adventurer who discovered lands beyond the ones he knew. But many question the mission and the full effects of Christopher Columbus’ conquership. The destruction that he left in his wake sparked a new perspective, one that wills to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day as an alternative.
Columbus Day, for those who wish to celebrate it, means more than just celebrating a man
who discovered North America. It is a celebration of Italian and Catholic culture. People take pride in the festival and it’s about more than only Christopher Columbus. Since it holds more value, the things Christopher Columbus did can be overlooked. There are those among us who wish to celebrate their heritage, and Columbus Day signifies just that for Italian and Catholic people.
Then there’s the issue of what happened after Christopher Columbus died. Should he be held accountable for the disease, slave trade, and destruction of the native? There was no way he could have foreseen the future. There is no harm in celebrating Christopher Columbus. Though he may have paved the way for centuries of disease, there was no way he knew what the future would bestow. With this reasoning, it seems wrong to credit Columbus with leading the spread of disease.
Columbus’ legacy may be the most important thing he left behind for us. When he sailed the ocean blue, he paved the way for centuries of exploration. People followed his example and sought to explore this might. He taught us that our exploration is what will keep us moving forward. The New World he found back then is the world we now live in, even though he landed in the Bahamas, says NationalGeographic. He showed us that exploring is something that will help us in the end. After his voyages, an article by History.com says that, “the idea of the trade of cash crops and coffee was introduced.” This is still an integral part of South America’s economy today. Columbus clearly brought many positive impacts that cannot be overlooked.
Indigenous People’s Day:
Indigenous People’s Day is a day to celebrate the contributions and successes of Native Americans. Our history is not written with the Native American perspectives in mind. Let’s face it: we talk about Native Americans usually when they have a connection with Europeans. It’s almost as if history, as we know it, starts mainly after Christopher Columbus landed in the New World. We often don’t notice how much Native Americans have done for our world. Those who wish to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day commemorate how the indigenous people prospered, even under destruction, instead of the man who led to the destruction of so many indigenous tribes.
After Columbus landed in the New World, destruction for the indigenous people followed. It
was as if the success of one group meant the downfall of another. Indigenous People’s Day doesn’t stand for this. Christopher Columbus led a movement that brought horror for the Natives. European diseases that came with him wiped out almost the entirety of the natives. As if that wasn’t enough, he also took the natives as slaves and mistreated them. He even resorted to torture, explained History.com.
Many states and cities have already started to honor Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day. The states of Vermont, Maine, New Mexico, Alaska, South Dakota, Oregon, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Iowa do not celebrate Columbus Day, as said by CNN. But the truth remains that most continue to celebrate Columbus Day.
Some may argue that Columbus Day should remain in our world, others cite the horrors that came after him. They wish to celebrate a community that has long been overlooked and recognize that what happened after Columbus was because of Columbus himself. He started the movement against indigenous people and they continue to face the effects today.
The Neutral Perspective:
As I scrolled through the news and looked at the hate that some held for minorities, I understood that this feeling may be present in other parts of our society. I looked across the internet and found the un-ending controversy on Columbus Day. If there’s anything I’ve learned about this world, it’s that people often don’t agree on every part of society.
Perhaps there’s a way to compromise. With controversies like this, there often isn’t a ‘right’ way to do things. I, for one, know that we are a community and when we disagree, sometimes the safest option may be to acknowledge each other’s beliefs and choose not to attack each other. In a diverse society (or any society, really), we will never agree on every single issue. We may just have to agree to disagree. When I first reached into this topic, I found that I sided with Indigenous People’s Day. The argument for this side is especially prominent and is something that has been told and retold numerous times. To learn more about why there is an argument, I absorbed the arguments of Columbus Day and found that there were several substantial points there as well. I was torn between the two, which was when I realized that the safest way to celebrate was to acknowledge that we may have to celebrate these holidays separately.
While I understand that Columbus may indeed have been brave and also that the indigenous people were stripped of their land, I feel it’s imperative to sit down and realize that we cannot change every part of society to match our beliefs. What we can do, however, is to celebrate Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day on our own terms. We may choose to celebrate our chosen holiday, celebrate both, or maybe neither. There’s nothing wrong with understanding the arguments presented, but our neutrality lies in making peace and celebrating side by side. While we may feel rotten for not standing up for ourselves, we may have to understand that the only opinion we can truly change is our own.