Should Columbus Day Be Celebrated?

Marissa Bournias

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If you are from Illinois, you probably had the second Monday in October off from school for Christopher Columbus Day. And the date associated with Columbus, 1492, is something children memorize from an early age.

But if the whole truth about Columbus was taught in schools, would the day still be a cause of celebration? 

For that decision to be made, one would have to discard every cherry-picked piece of information that they have learned, most likely in primary school, and recognize the true actions and events caused by Columbus. As time goes on, historians continue to discover an increasing amount of previously unknown or disregarded facts about these expeditions.

In school, we are often taught the saying, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” This much is true. But there is certainly more to the story than what the Euro-centric textbooks lead us to believe. 

We all know that Columbus encountered indigineous people throughout his expeditions. But what is not taught about those encounters is the fact that Columbus and his colleagues treated the people as obstacles; these are the people he falsely labeled as “Indians” when he thought he had reached India. 

Columbus set out not to find spices, as many students are taught, but to find gold and other treasures they presumed to be stockpiled by natives of other lands. As they arrived on the foreign islands, their first order of business was to announce their supreme dominance over the natives and demand their obedience. 

The Spaniards also announced the requirement to convert to Catholicism. Disobeying meant dire consequences, including being jailed or killed. Come to find out, the natives had no gold considering it had to be mined and was not just sitting there for the taking.

However, there was an obvious issue with this: Natives could neither speak nor understand Spanish. So, they were assumed to be disobedient and subsequently thrown in jail for this.

 But not all natives were jailed by Columbus. At a time when the slave trade was growing, Columbus realized he had many people now at his disposal to commit to his servitude. The natives were forced to work on their own land for Columbus’ profit. Others, like the Taino “Indians,” were shipped off to Spain to be sold. Many of them did not survive the trip.

Something I, and probably many others, certainly did not learn about Columbus in school is his involvement in sex trafficking or slavery of young girls. In his never ending quest for riches, Columbus stopped at no bounds to acquire them. 

He stooped so low as to sell girls around the age of ten years old simply because they could be sold at a higher price. This fact alone personally makes me cringe when thinking about this man having a holiday.

And last but not least, the Europeans brought with them a hoard of diseases that the natives had never come into contact with, such as influenza, measles, and smallpox. They had no immunity or the right kind of medicines to fight these diseases. Millions died from this exposure, which is more than were killed because of said disobedience. 

These unexpected outbreaks were looked at as “signs from God,” as if Columbus and others were meant to take the lands they were ravishing, and God was essentially clearing the path for them. 

I think a small comfort can be taken in the fact that Columbus was removed from power and died with nothing to his name. 

You may ask, why is this man celebrated at all, after all the atrocities he caused? It has been a holiday celebrated within social clubs since the 1700s in the United States, decided on by a bunch of white people. 

But one of the main factors leading to it becoming an actual observed holiday is due to the influx of Italian immigrants coming to America. Christopher Columbus was Italian, which the immigrants took great pride in. After much lobbying, it was declared a national holiday in 1930s. 

It is never a bad thing to have pride in your heritage and heroes of that nature, but it becomes bad when the person does despicable things. 

Many states have stopped celebrating Columbus Day as they learn the truth about Columbus. Instead, many substitute this holiday for Indigineous Peoples Day, to honor those who lost their lives. It is important that Illinois should also take that step and remove him as a figure of honor and instead honor the native people whose lands and lives were stripped in the name of wealth.