Seattle, where I have lived for thirty years, is one of many cities in the U.S. that have declared October 12 Indigenous Peoples Day. In Seattle the ordinance declaring the new name for the holiday was signed into law 364 days ago, which means that today is the first time we’re officially celebrating it here. There are a lot of good reasons we should consider getting rid of Columbus Day: Christopher Columbus was a lost sadist. There shouldn’t be a holiday in his name and Columbus a problematic historical character: unreliable navigator, relentless self-publicist, chaotic colonial administrator, and probable mass murderer. Which makes many ask Why is Columbus Day still a U.S. federal holiday?
When I was a kid, I don’t remember any of the school districts I attended giving us the day off. Columbus Day was a day we talked about the very white-washed version of his “discovery” of the Americas. I used to work with a man who was born on Columbus Day, and what he loved most about it was that where he went to school it was a day off, so he and his friends always got to go to the movies or something similar on his birthday.
Any problematic figure can represent a teaching opportunity, of course: Ángel González: I’ll be raising a glass to the adventurer whose legacy shows how Hispanic culture and the United States are inseparable, in glory and in shame. And it must be noted that simply changing a holiday’s name doesn’t necessarily solve real problems: It’s been a year, but improvements for Native American services are off to a slow start.
And of course some people wonder Why Do We Celebrate Columbus Day and Not Leif Erikson Day?
I have neither a clever nor wise conclusion to this. I think it is sad that there are people who defend Columbus Day, and not at all surprising that many of them are the same ones who bitch about so-called illegal immigration with absolutely no self-awareness of the irony of what Columbus and other European colonists did to Native Americans. But I do believe that names matter, just as truth and understanding matter. So, count me as one of the people who thinks the federal holiday’s name, at the least, should be changed.