Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Columbus Day: Yea or nay?

Indian-Killer Re-enactors Lead Columbus Parade in Denver

The Buffalo Post - October 10, 2009

Many places will commemorate Columbus Day on Monday. For some people, that means a long weekend. For others – and not only Native Americans – it’s an affront. Lots of news organizations weighed in on the topic. Here’s a sampling:
The Wall Street Journal gets us started, with this story archly headlined “Is Columbus Day Sailing Off the Calendar?” It outlines the various ways in which places celebrate the day – or have decided not to. And even the ones that do tread lightly.As Dan Williamson, a spokesman for Mayor Michael B. Coleman of Columbus, Ohio, says: “It would be stupid to pretend there is no controversy around Christopher Columbus.”
In Barre and Montpelier, Vermont, the Times-Argus features letters from Spaulding High School students on the topic. One of those students, Jacob Eli Trepanier, recommends replacing the current parades and other celebrations with a moment of silence in recognition of the slaughter and suffering of Native people that began with Columbus’ arrival. (Read his letter and the others here.)
This Christian Science Monitor piece recounts how Hawaii has changed the name of the holiday to Discover’s Day – and goes on to suggest changing it, nationwide, yet again to honor a Native American, such as Crazy Horse or Chief Joseph. And it quotes the latter, terming his words a “distinctly American” philosophy:
“Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think, and act for myself – and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty.”
In Denver, which has seen decades of controversy and violent protest surrounding that city’s Columbus Day celebration, things are even uneasier than usual this year as a result of a false report that the scheduled Columbus Day parade had been canceled, HispanicBusiness.com reports here. The same story quotes an organizer of the parade, a member of the Sons of Italy, as saying he felt personally wounded, as he feels the parade celebrates his heritage.
I heard that argument a lot when I lived and worked in Denver, with its rich mix of Native, Hispanic and Italian communities, all of whom took an intense interest in the day’s activities. Given that my grandparents came to this country from Italy, some of those people figured they knew where I stood on the subject. And indeed, there’s much in my heritage to honor. But Columbus? Please. This particular Italian finds nothing there to be proud of.
Gwen Florio


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