Monday, October 13, 2014

Columbus Day

I was going to wish you a happy Columbus Day, but I have to put on my historian hat and say something else first.

Europeans enjoyed relatively safe land passage over the “silk road” to India and China for centuries until the Muslims conquered Constantinople. Most everything traveling the silk road after that was confiscated by the raiders who lived there. Eventually, the seafaring Portuguese developed a sea passage route around Africa. The Italian explorer, Columbus envisioned another way, but it required bravery and boldness.

By 1492, Columbus had lined up investors to finance about half of his great adventure. During the two years prior, he had lobbied the Spanish court. Having just evicted the Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula, Queen Isabella rejected Columbus, and he headed to France. Had King Ferdinand not intervened, France might have become his sponsor and the resulting world which would have emerged provides for interesting discussion and muse material, which goes beyond the scope of this article. 

Because you should already know about Columbus’s four voyages, I won’t discuss them here; instead, I will discuss a few things about the holiday’s history.

Columbus Day began as a celebration of Italian-American heritage in San Francisco in 1869. In 1905, Jesse F. McDonald, the Colorado governor proclaimed it a state holiday. In 1937, Columbus Day was elevated by Congress and President F.D. Roosevelt to become a Federal holiday. 

When I was a child, the celebration of Italian-American heritage had spilled over into a general celebration of ethnic-European influence on the American journey, but we didn’t call it that. It was presented as a part of the foundational history of America. Our history classes taught how he had ventured only onto some islands in the Caribbean, never putting a foot on the mainland of America; nevertheless, we simplified the lessons by saying, “Columbus discovered America.” To aid us on our history tests, we memorized the first line of an old poem, “In fourteen hundred ninety-two; Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Today, not everybody is enthusiastic about Columbus Day. Quite the opposite, a lot of folks actually hate the idea of celebrating the bravery and boldness of Columbus. If you Google the hate, you’ll find he’s blamed for just about every crime against humanity you can imagine and some you can’t. 

This year, you might have heard that the city counsels of Seattle and Minneapolis have declared the second Monday in October as “Indigenous People’s Day” in opposition to the long-established Federal Holiday. 

Locally elected government can do anything they want as long as they don’t violate Federal or State law. So all I have to say about that is, good luck to them.

But for now, let’s think about this for a moment. Considering the myriad diversity celebrations happening all over this land, thinking people might ask themselves, “Why do some people hate Columbus Day?”

Is it because Columbus Day began as an ethnic-Italian heritage celebration? 
Is it because Columbus Day evolved into an ethnic-European heritage celebration? 
Is it because Columbus Day became a foundational American celebration? 

Few will confess to such a hate. Because, at least for now, saying they hate Italians, or Europeans, or American is mostly unacceptable, the dissenters frame their arguments based on their view of the negative aspects of Columbus. The facts the dissenters present mostly lack reliable primary sources, but I suppose that matters only to historians and thinking people. If you’ve been following this, have you noticed how the stories of atrocities get worse every year? It is as if the dissenters are being visited by imps and fairies with new revelations because they are not held to the standards demanded from professional historians. Interestingly, the unsupported stories are accepted by many people without challenge. Is it hate or something else?

I don’t know their hearts, but in the interest of consistency, thinking people should consider the typical response to any argument focused on the negative aspects of any other group celebrating their diversity. 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen it before. Regardless of the data supporting the argument, the offended release their hate like rabid hounds on a bunny rabbit. Eventually, the one who had offered the argument is personally attacked, sometimes physically, until the dissenter simply fades away. When civility is abandoned, the dissenter remains an object of ridicule and harassment while the “defenders of diversity” are lauded for their bravery and boldness. Anyone who considers suggesting the dissenter had a valid argument knows they will be dished out an equal measure of hate, too. 

Finally, thinking people need to ask themselves, “Why shouldn’t ethnic Italians and ethnic Europeans, or for that matter, Americans in general respond likewise to arguments against the observation of Columbus Day?” 

Where has all the bravery gone? 
Where has all the boldness gone?
Gone to flowers everyone?

With that said, I now wish you all a wonderful Columbus Day.