The annual celebration of Columbus Day, a nationally celebrated holiday since the mid-nineteenth century, is a topic of avid debate. Columbus Day–occuring on October 12th– conjures a complex story of America.
Columbus Day is a holiday that is celebrated in many countries in the Americas and commemorates Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas on October 12, 1492.
In the 19th century, many Italian-American immigrants began to celebrate the contributions of Columbus. In 1934, the Knights of Columbus lobbied for Columbus Day to become a nationally celebrated holiday. That year, Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed October 12th Columbus Day.
The controversy behind Columbus Day inspires many Americans to make changes to the holiday. Americans have begun to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on October 12, replacing Columbus Day.
On Thursday October 11, a panel was held in SAC 110 to discuss Columbus Day from multiple points of view and provided an environment for the conversation of Columbus Day to be productive.
During this time, many students and faculty had the opportunity to give their thoughts on how Columbus Day defines a nation.
“I believe that it’s vitally important to have this conversation about Columbus Day. The question that we should ask ourselves is what story do we want to tell about our past?,” said Dr. Laura von Wallmenich, an English Profesor who attended the panel discussion.
“The solution isn’t as easy as dissolving the holiday or leaving it alone. We should create a new story that better encompasses the truth of both sides of the encounter in a respective and productive manner,” she said.
The panels purpose is to find a possible solution to the Columbus Day question and to conduct constructive discussion. Many students and faculty have strong opinions on this topic and the range of solutions vary.
Christopher Columbus Day is contested widly, not only in the United States, but also encompasses all of the Americas.
“Spanish speakers have a mix of feelings towards the celebration of Columbus Day. Many indigenous tribes and cultures have disappeared because of that clash,” said Dr. Victor Argueta, a speaker at the panel and a Physics Professor from Mexico.
Other Spanish speaking countries don’t celebrate Christopher Columbus Day. “We don’t celebrate Columbus Day in America because Columbus never discovered America,” said Santiago Ribadeneira (‘21).
“Columbus’s historical significance is for all of the Americas. This topic of debate is more felt in Spanish speaking countries. North America has embraced him and used him to promote a national icon,” said von Wallmenich.
The solution might not be as simple as yes or no. “The question that we want to ask ourselves is what story do we want to tell?” said von Wallmenich.
The experiences of all Americans should be shown. Whenever we celebrate a figure like Christopher Columbus, we tend to make them larger than themselves, forgetting that they’re human and certainly not infallible.
“He was a person,” said Asiel Clark(20’), a student who attended the panel.
“The idea of Columbus is unrealistic and sends a message that he was either a good figure or a bad one. Public schools should teach the significance of our history as a complex one – from all angles of the cultural exchange.”
Glorifying a historical figure creates mixed feelings. To remedy the issue, an alternative solution is to dissolve Columbus Day “Columbus Day shouldn’t be celebrated in America. Columbus committed heinous acts toward the indigenous peoples,” said Joe Tighe (‘21).
Students on campus agree that a change should be made to the nationally celebrated holiday. “Columbus Day isn’t a holiday that people celebrate,” said Ciara Schutz (‘20). In an attempt to remedy the issue, an alternate solution is to dissolve Columbus Day.
“Some Latin American countries, like Uruguay and Belize, celebrate a ‘Day of the Americas’ instead of Columbus Day. Argentina has a ‘Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity.’ Something along these lines seems worth considering.” said Dr. Danny Wasserman, a History Professor who also attended the panel.
“It could be a more inclusive option than what we have now, allowing us to celebrate the many different peoples that make the Americas: indigenous, African, Asian, and European,” he said.