A BATTER’D, wreck’d old man,
Thrown on this savage shore, far, far from home,
Pent by the sea, and dark rebellious brows, twelve dreary months,
Sore, stiff with many toils, sicken’d, and nigh to death,
I take my way along the island’s edge,
Venting a heavy heart.
Excerpt from "Prayer of Columbus" by Walt Whitman
Today on Where We Live, we discussed Christopher Columbus. Today is the day he is to be "celebrated", according to federal law. Or at least we shall celebrate what the man represents to our country (depending on what President is in office): new explorations, the discovery of America, immigration... And then there are those who want no part of any celebrations having to do with such a man. For, as Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote, "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide."
First off, let me give credit to Howard Zinn and "A People's History of the United States" which gives a thorough history of "the other side" of the Columbus story (and many other historical events). Our friend and WNPR listener Luis Cotto also recommends "Open Veins of Latin America." by Eduardo Galeano.
Today's Boston Globe discusses "Columbus and the American Problem" - speaking of one of Columbus' main motivations in his explorations: religion.
In his “Journals,’’ Columbus’s report to his royal sponsors, he declares; “Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes devoted to the Holy Christian Faith and the propagation thereof, and enemies of the sect of Mahomet and of all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said regions of India, to see the said princes and peoples and lands and the disposition of them and of all, and the manner in which may be undertaken their conversion to our Holy Faith, and ordained that I should not go by land (the usual way) to the Orient, but by the route of the Occident, by which no one to this day knows for sure that anyone has gone.’’
As for the gold that Columbus hoped to find for his sponsors, he knew that it was not merely for their enrichment. He wrote, “I declared to Your Highnesses that all the gain of this my Enterprise should be spent in the conquest of Jerusalem; and Your Highnesses smiled and said that it pleased you.’’
And the Wall Street Journal comments on the fact that the holiday is "sailing off the calendar" ... (although in Connecticut many people still have the day off, and New Haven's Columbus Day Committee is still putting on its annual parade)
Philadelphia's annual Columbus Day parade has been canceled. Brown University this year renamed the holiday "Fall Weekend" following a campaign by a Native American student group opposed to celebrating an explorer who helped enslave some of the people he "discovered."
Should we rename the day "Fall Weekend" (clever), "Hero's Day" or "Explorer's Day"? Some have proposed such changes...
Locally, the Middletown Eye has posted a Hartford Courant article from 1909, the first year that Columbus Day was a state holiday in Connecticut. So, this would be the 100th anniversary of the holiday. The celebration (in 1909) included two parades, a mass, a reception and dance party (until 2AM!)
In a clever plot twist, Manuel Rosa, who has studied Columbus for almost 20 years - has some pretty fascinating theories on the explorer's origins. Including (my favorite little detail) that he may have been born from Polish royalty, who was exiled to Portugal. That he was not a poor Italian man, but a wealthy and intellectual Portugese spy (he says Columbus was like the 007 of his time). Look for an upcoming book by Rosa, exploring this more in depth.
Columbus Day: Total Crock? Teachable Moment? or Time to Celebrate? What do you think...
And without further ado, check out this link.