October 12th is a holiday that is widely celebrated throughout the Americas. Back when I was in elementary school in Mexico, the Discovery of America and Christopher Columbus were celebrated with honors to the Mexican Flag and a lively celebration during school hours.
Later, around 1994, when I began attending school in the United States, we celebrated the same holiday at school except this time, it wasn’t called the Discovery of America, but just Columbus Day. The day was meant to commemorate the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492.
When I attended college, I took some Latin American literature classes. In those classes, I finally learned the historically accurate story of Columbus, his first encounters with the native peoples in the Caribbean and of how he treated the native population of the places he arrived at. To make a long story short, the Christopher Columbus that was taught to me as a child while attending school in Mexico and in the U.S. was completely different from the actual historical figure of the real Christopher Columbus.
Christopher Columbus did arrive in America in 1492. However, unlike the lessons I was taught as a child, he did not discover “a New World” for how can you discover a place when there are people already living in it. He was also culturally insensitive from the very beginning, mistakenly calling the people who inhabited these lands “Indians”
Columbus and his men enslaved many of the indigenous people they encountered, including women and children, and treated them with extreme violence and brutality.
Throughout his years in the Americas, Columbus forced natives to work for the sake of profits. Later, he sent thousands of Taino “indians” to Spain to be sold, and many of them died during the journey. The natives who weren’t sold into slavery were forced to look for gold in mines and work on plantations.
While he was governor of what is now the Dominican Republic, Columbus killed many indigenous people in response to their revolt. To prevent further rebellion, he would have the dead bodies of the slaughtered Taínos paraded through the streets.
These are just a few examples of what Christopher Columbus initiated: a legacy of oppression and violence against indigenous communities.
In the United States, there has been a push by the Native American communities to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Some states in the U.S. now recognize October 11th as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but other states continue to observe Columbus Day as an official holiday.
I no longer celebrate Columbus Day or the Discovery of America. I haven’t done so in the last ten years; ever since I read and learned about the true history of the Colonization in the Americas.
Instead, I celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I teach my kids about their Native American history and culture. I attend Pow Wow’s, which take place during harvest season in autumn. I visit museums that teach a more accurate depiction of Native American history. When I travel to Mexico, I make it a point to attend indigenous cultural events and learn more about my history. I try to do things that will keep me connected to my Native American culture and people.
To me, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day to honor all the indigenous people who were killed during the “discovery” and colonization of the Americas. To honor the ones who endured oppression throughout history since 1492. It is also a day to celebrate our Native American culture and stories of resilience.
Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day!