Monday, October 13, 2008

So, what are you going to tell the kids about Columbus?

Today is Columbus Day; and I have already mistakenly set out my trash anyway. My children were curious about Christopher Columbus, our American Hero, and wanted to learn more. Of course, finding the facts opens the door to the cruel side to our nation's history; the part that is always left out of our own biased history books, and we're left with "what to tell our children."

At first, the facts are harmless enough:

  • Columbus never set out to discover a new land. He had hoped simply to find a new naval route to India and the other nations of the East, to streamline trade for exotic spices and silks.
  • When Christopher Columbus reached land, he thought he was actually in Asia. (Remember, this was way before Map Quest.) When he died in 1506, he still had no idea he had discovered a New World.
  • Columbus never landed in the United States -- he landed on some island in the Caribbean -- the island in question is speculated. Most believe he landed in the Bahamas, probably the current San Salvador (Watlings Island).
  • Columbus knew the world was round; his mistake was underestimating the earth's size. No one had ever recorded the mass of land separating Europe from Asia, known as the Americas. (Which was why, when he hit land, he assumed he was in Asia.)
  • Four criminals were on board the Columbus Crew: one a convicted murderer (he killed a man in a quarrel); the other three were accused of freeing him from prison. The kids always find facts like this exciting.

Now, for the difficult part. I will spare you here, the gory details:

  • In many places within North America, Columbus Day is not a day to celebrate. This is based the research by American historian Howard Zinn, who reveals the cruelty Columbus inflicted upon Native Americans. Zinn claims that Columbus was a religious fanatic with an obsession of eliminating non-Christians, by means of murder, conversion, or at the very least, enslavement.
  • The Columbus Day parade in Denver has been protested by Native American groups and their supporters for nearly two decades.
  • Many Native Hawaiians decry the celebration of both Columbus and Cook, known to have committed acts of violent subjugation of native people.
  • Columbus Day is a day of protest for some advocacy groups.
  • Many of these groups have used Columbus Day to create their own alternative, Indigenous Peoples Day, with Pow-Wows and native food and celebrations.

So while our schools and government are trying to celebrate Columbus Day as a celebration of colonialism, it's always difficult for parents to keep an eye on the historical truths -- those parts of our nation's colonization that led to genocide and environmental destruction.

Something to think about while you ponder over the day. Maybe while you visit the Crafty Crow, and make these adorable totem poles with you children.

Picture, from the Crafty Crow.


Heather said...

Other than the fact the post offices are closed it's just another day around here. Kids still have school.

Hip Mom's Guide said...

School's in here, too. And of course there are lots of sales. When did celebrating (or pondering) history come to mean cheaper furniture?

Kathie said...

Columbus Day is pretty quiet here in Central America. He did make landfall near Trujillo Bay in Honduras in 1502. That was his last trip. Here in Costa Rica it is just a day the banks are closed and most people don't even know why. I think it is interested that the Vikings actually arrived in North America around 1000 AD, but didn't bother to tell anyone what they had discovered.
Blessings from Costa Rica