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A compromise on Columbus Day

The Santa Maria anchoring in the distance horizon, while its sails perform in a fluid motions, fueled by the gusting wind.  Christopher Columbus takes the first steps on the New World’s beaches in the name of the Spanish empire. Spaniards follow behind Columbus waving the Spanish Flag over the newly found world.

Stories such as this are what many students learn in elementary school. When Columbus Day rolls around students are supposed to remind themselves of their education of Columbus and the many things he did.

Normally,  holidays such as Labor Day and Memorial Day, are given as days off in schools for both students and staff. Columbus Day, however, is what is called a “second tier holiday, in which a sizable portion of employees get the day off, but the majority of us are expected to work like normal.”, according to Time Money. The article continues to explain as that a second tier holiday is determined by how many people observe the holiday. Columbus Day as demonstrated, is not a popular holiday amongst businesses and organizations so it is given this rank.

To put this in context, Columbus is the Vice President of holidays: recognizable but no significance or meaning is given.

The ‘sizable proportion of employees’ that Time Money refers to, include many banks (particularly those that deal with the US government), many government offices such as the US Postal Service and public school. The ‘sizable proportion of employees’ is a notable minority of employed Americans.

As a matter of fact, only six holidays are nearly universally accepted as paid holidays, meaning that over 90 percent of businesses and organizations give the day off. These paid holidays are New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, and Christmas.

Columbus Day–as shown– does not make this list. As according to Pew Research (2015), only 23 states recognize Columbus Day as a holiday, Missouri being one of them. In short, a majority of states don’t count Columbus Day as a holiday, and it’s very improbable that Columbus Day will ever become a widely accepted paid holiday.

Columbus Day over the past 20 years has become a focal point for controversy. Many states and even counties have officially renamed Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. This trend, started in 1992 with Berkeley, California and has branched out as far as Seattle and Minneapolis in 2014. Even as recent as August of 2017, the city council of Los Angeles voted  to eliminate Columbus Day and replace the 2nd Monday of October with Indigenous People’s Day.

A main factor for these decisions by states, cities, and counties to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day is political pressure exerted from Native American activist groups who perceive Christopher Columbus as responsible for the genocide of Native Americans in the Americas and the Caribbean.

Native Americans have a more than justifiable reason for despising Columbus and what he did. The argument here is not to judge Columbus as to whether he is guilty or innocent of his atrocities, but rather to demonstrate the importance of his achievement in leading the discovery an entire hemisphere of the world. This is by no means an excuse for his actions, but a contextualization of the period in history he lived in. European explorers were going to find North America eventually with the innovations in navigational technology and highly restrictive trade barriers to the rich Asia markets.

Columbus just happened to do it first.

His behavior is accurately described as savage, yet that’s reason enough alone to have the holiday. Instead of replacing Columbus day with another name or eliminating the day altogether, turn the day on its head so to speak. Better yet have Indigenous peoples day with Columbus day as co-holidays. Make it a day in school where kids are taught both sides of the story and so that reflects in a better future society that has a more informed dialogue. It’s clearly a fleeting holiday, but it doesn’t have to stay that way, and it matters to some more than opponents of the holiday care to admit.

Columbus Day falls in the month of October, which is also Italian Heritage month. It’s a big deal for Italians, and the holiday represents more than a celebration of one man: however, even the Committee to Observe October as Italian-American Heritage Month admits the tangibility of the date:

“We recognize that in many cases, especially with respect to certain historical figures, uncertainty exists about what judgment should be made about their conduct or the ideas they espoused. We believe that in all cases freedom of thought and expression must be respected, and we encourage vigorous debate about such matters.”

This holiday is not without frustration and emotional ties, but it’s not as black and white as the narrative has made it. Division in this country is ever growing and starting small with something like Columbus Day, is a good start to the long healing this country needs.

What are your thoughts on Columbus Day? Let us know in the comments below.

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