Dear folks who decide holidays in Louisiana,
I respectfully request that you discontinue the Christopher Columbus holiday observance, posthaste.
It is an act of disrespect and deceit to continue to prop up Christopher Columbus as America’s first great hero.
He was no darling.
With romantic whimsy, textbooks recount the arrival of the Niña, Pinta, and the Santa Maria on October 12, 1492. Students are taught to herald the bravery of Columbus and his crew, to hail them as sailors who braved stormy seas and the unknown to discover our beloved America.
None of this, however, reveals the true Columbus history. From the moment the lookout cheered, “Tierra! (land),” Columbus began a campaign of genocide and theft — theft of land, resources and people. Countless atrocities to mankind followed with his arrival.
The story of Columbus as we have been taught in school is a farce, one of the biggest lies taught in American history classrooms. He did not discover America more than 500 years ago. He was a liar, who fabricated everything from weather conditions to travel time in his logbooks. He was not kind to the “naked savages” he encountered. He deemed the indigenous people inconsequential and subhuman. He claimed their soil and anything else he and his band of looters deemed valuable.
“Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from ingenious people in the Western Hemisphere, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass,” wrote James W. Loewen in his bestseller, Lies My Teacher Told Me.
In 1892, on the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing, President Benjamin Harrison established a celebration. The second Monday in October came to be the Columbus holiday in 1971.
Columbus does deserve a place in history, but not on a pedestal. He should be acknowledged as a disoriented explorer, who set sail for India and landed near what is now the Bahamas; one of a long line of European mariners seeking world domination.
We are taught that once he landed in the New World (the biggest misnomer in history given that an existing population and culture preceded his disembarking) he kissed the ground and praised God. We are not taught the nasty details of how he disfigured the uncooperative original people by chopping off their hands, noses, and ears, maiming them in revolting ways to coerce the rest into submission.
We are not taught about the perverse nature of these so-called Christian journeyers. Or about the sexual violence they inflicted.
From Christopher Columbus: The Four Voyages, a collection of letters and various correspondence, one of his men, Michele da Cuneo, wrote nonchalantly of a rape he committed against a young indigenous woman:
“While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked—as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But — to cut a long story short — I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been brought up in a school for whores.”
Wicked and ghastly, this is a report back of a dutiful subordinate eager to tell the boss man how he is upholding the company line.
In Columbus’ own words, from his diary: “They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
When Columbus is revered so is mass murder, global thuggery and the degradation of humanity. Not exploration or inquisitiveness — all the things textbooks and the powers that be lead us to believe.
Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon join 16 other states that don’t recognize Columbus Day as a public holiday. South Dakota has celebrated Native American Day since 1990. Berkeley, Calif., has boycotted Columbus Day since 1992, instead marking Indigenous Peoples Day. Today, places like Seattle and Minneapolis do too.
Again, I question: Why do we honor Christopher Columbus?
In Louisiana, I propose a holiday to memorialize the Tunica, Chitimacha, or perhaps the Coushatta tribes who were robbed of their land or the scores of slaves whose very sweat and blood fueled the economic system for centuries, whose stories are too ugly to be told during plantation tours.
Fed up with revisionist history
jewel bush is an award-winning journalist and writer. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune and The (Houma) Courier. She has won numerous awards including distinctions from the Louisiana Press Association and the New York Times Regional Media Group. Her short story, “Red Polish” appears in “Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop.” Her newest piece, Related Somehow to Africa: Black Palestinians and the Search for Shared Identity, appears in issue 115 of the Harvard journal, Transition.