Since I learned who Columbus really was, the whole idea of Columbus Day has been uncomfortable. On one hand, even as an elementary schooler, something feels inherently wrong in honoring a man who brought so much pain. On the other hand, having a day off from school is great. As bad as it sounds to say, the reason for having a day off from school wasn’t in consideration. Just having the day off was enough to make me happy.
Around this time last year, I heard about Indigenous Peoples Day parades happening across the country on the same day as Columbus Day, but I never understood the scale until Columbus Day this year. What I thought started off as a movement largely initiated by the states to better analyze our country’s collective perspective on history, was in fact a change initiated by the federal government.
I don’t exactly know why I chose not to further research Indigenous Peoples Day when I first found out about it. I unfortunately underestimated our country and let myself go on believing the movement couldn’t possibly be as big as it was. That was clearly wrong.
What actually spurred me to begin researching this year was actually seeing on my iPhone calendar that today is labeled “Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day.” They were both placed on the same level, and while that opens up a host of new ideas to discuss, it made me realize just how far Indigenous People have come.
Columbus did sail to America in 1492. He was also a rapist and genocidal and cruel, not to forget, he largely ended up in America by accident. Our country shouldn’t honor a man like that. However, simply removing Columbus Day wouldn’t be enough. Doing that would be trying to eliminate history.
Replacing Columbus Day with a day honoring the people he devastated shows a willingness to understand and reflect on history that I frankly haven’t observed very often in the United States. And we honor Indigenous People for their strength against not just Columbus, but against a long line of people who viewed them as subhuman, unworthy of basic decency.
The D.C. Council passed a temporary measure to abolish Columbus Day in Washington D.C. just this year and it will now go through Congress for approval. Many cities already made the change, formally replacing the holiday with Indigenous Peoples day, including Newark, New Jersey.
Some states also made the decision to change the holiday statewide. The State of New Jersey still officially recognizes Columbus Day.
Notably, before 2014, the only places that decided to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day were Berkeley, California (1992) and Santa Cruz, California (1994) Despite what happens across cities, the debate continues in schools as to what schools should formally celebrate and more importantly, what they should learn about Columbus.
History for younger kids tends to be oversimplified, leading to the glorification of historical figures. In some cases, this is acceptable as minor assumptions will be corrected later on in the school system. In other cases, such as with figures like Christopher Columbus, the more pressing question is what impression we want to give the youth about our country’s history. To put it simply, the history wasn’t pretty.
There’s a spectrum between the two extremes of honoring Columbus and completely disregarding his role in history. The point is not to go one way or the other. At least there is an effort to create change and more awareness being created. Hopefully, if the D.C. provision passes, that will spur the national movement we need to give Indigenous People the respect they deserve. Continuing to celebrate Columbus Day demonstrates ignorance and/or insensitivity to the past we all accept as Americans.