October 11, 2007

Columbus Day: Parades for the Exterminator

Print More

Not only do we have an entire day devoted to the catalyst for the extermination of an entire race of native peoples in the Caribbean, but we also conduct a parade in his honor. High school marching bands blare out patriotic tunes in an excruciating brass jumble, a fifty-foot Garfield hovers over little kids who suck on red, white and blue lollapaloozas and anorexic dancers inexplicably pirouette with translucent umbrellas atop floats crawling down New York City’s 5th Avenue. All this revelry marches on in the name of a man who never even stepped foot on the United States of America—Christopher Columbus.

When Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492, he set up a base and then left with his tail between his legs as he failed to find the Atlantic sea route to Asia that he was searching for. Though he thought himself a failure, his founding of Hispaniola became vital to Spanish power, as the island–which now consists of the Dominican Republic and Haiti–had fertile land, gold and an abundance of serviceable harbors. But the greatest natural resources to Columbus were the people—the native population whom Columbus thought would make great servants. If a native person was not one of the 500,000 native Bahamans that were killed by disease in the 50 years after Columbus arrived, they were undoubtedly hunted down and forced to labor by Columbus and his men. Due to slavery, murder and disease, there were fewer people living in North American at the end of the 16th century than when Columbus arrived.

Now how does the enabler of enslavement and extermination in the name of Catholicism and Spanish economic dominance become the honoree of a parade through the streets of the most culturally relevant city in the modern world nearly 500 years after his death? Why are we deprived of our mail in order to honor a bloodthirsty foreign bigot who did nothing more than crash into what was destined to become home to Atlantis (the amazingly popular yet undeniably awkward giant pink hotel) on his way to China?

America devoting an entire day to Columbus is like Russia devoting an entire day to a Bengali explorer who landed in South Korea and proceeded to exterminate hundreds of thousands of native Koreans. Only if the kindergarteners in St. Petersburg were brainwashed into thinking that after the Bengali explorer discovered Russia, he sprinkled pixy-dust on it, it bloomed into a glorious nation, smiling teachers forced those same kids to memorize delusional lullabies about the Bengali explorer, an enormous inflatable Clifford floated around Red Square during the Bengali Explorer Day Parade and everyone got a long weekend, would Russia have an analog to Columbus in America.

My theory is that Congress was burnt out from working straight from Labor Day to Thanksgiving, so they decided to build in a holiday right in the middle of the session. When Leif Erickson’s landing turned out to be too close to Easter, they went with the next best thing. That theory is probably, actually definitely, filled with factual inaccuracies, but I’m still going to stick with it.

Columbus Day has become such a mainstay that most Americans have either forgotten what it’s about or don’t care what it’s about. Our infatuation with the long weekend overrides our dislike of the atrocities committed by Columbus. We almost have to create the fairy tale of Columbus discovering America in order to justify our day off.

The American sentiment is something like, “Hey, I don’t like enslavement and extermination as much as the next guy. But if we get off Monday and I skip class Friday, that’s four days to party in Montréal. Come on now, how sick would that be?” So we create a lie that let’s us party in Montréal guilt-free.

Seeing that our like for a day-off-bearing holiday will always outweigh our distaste for genocide, I propose a solution. We should keep the holiday but change its name from Columbus Day to Native Day. We still get the day off, and the parade organizers just have to mix in a few totem poles and Pocahontas impersonators, and they now have a parade honoring the exterminated and not the exterminator. Hell, throw a feathered headdress on the eighty-foot Snoopy. Go wild. Don’t check your mail. Don’t go to class. Get bombed and wander around Quebec for an extra night. Who cares? It’s Native Day–a cause we can all take a day off for.