Monday, October 11, 2021

The Columbus Day Situation (Day 285)

As a child I was a fan of Columbus Day. Not because I cared one bit about Columbus, but because I had the day off from school. 

As an adult, I am not a fan of Columbus Day, Historically, my children have had off from school and it brings a bevy of exhausting and complicated arrangements that need to be made to tend to them. And of course, there is the whole Columbus Day situation. 

Why do we celebrate this day?

Before, I give my opinion, I want to know that I am fully aware that I am not an expert on Christopher Columbus. I am also not an expert on any Native peoples. 

When I was a kid, a trillion years ago, Columbus was presented to us as an amazing explorer--a brave soul who while confused about geography, was willing to sail the ocean blue and find new lands. He supposedly bravely advocated for funding from another government to make his dream come true. 

The thing is he did not really find anything; except his ego and fame and blood thirst.  The land was not missing; he was just ignorant of its existence. 

Columbus does not seem like a super great guy--and of course, his "discovery" is what ultimately led to the destruction and murder of indigenous people. It's interesting to note, I think, in these pandemic times, that viruses like small pox and influenza were the explorer carry-ons that killed indigenous peoples all over the Americas. 

I can tell you with full honesty that I used to be concerned that another explorer would come here and "find" us and we'd find ourselves dead or displaced. I was not an elevated child, but I really liked my house and I did not want any explorers taking it because they liked it. 

I really like my house and my town. I am glad that I get to live here. And even when I say that, I am overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and sorrow over the people who lived here once and don't anymore. 

One of my favorite people on social media, Julie Lythcott-Haims, made a donation today to a non-profit organization that supports and preserves the legacy of the Native peoples whose land she now lives on. Her advice: you cannot change history but you can understand it and honor it.  

In New Jersey, right where I live, were the Lenni-Lenape. The Lenni-Lenape lived on the shores of the Delaware River--and even near the Cooper River, where arrowheads and pottery has been found. They were forced from here gradually and made gone after the Revolutionary War, to Oklahoma of all places. 

As a proud Jersey girl and former Bucks County girl, I cannot imagine being sent to Oklahoma. I am not trying to minimize or make light of the atrocities that happened at the hands of Europeans settlers to the people who already lived here, but it really is that simple, right? Imagine yourself forced to leave and be stuck in Oklahoma. 

I don't think you find a lot people from Jersey there. 

Columbus Day carries the weight of discovery and exile, evenly. 

I like the shift to thinking of this day as Indigenous Peoples' Day, because in renaming it, the focus shifts away from Columbus, the explorer everyone knows, to the marginalized people we rarely think about. I know some of you hate this change, for reasons I don't really understand. Columbus should not be political almost 600 years later; yet somehow he is. And even as I write this, I contradict myself and I don't think it is terrible to continue to call it Columbus Day, as long as we talk about what this day is about. 

And it is not about an explorer. 

I think this day is about the consequences of humanity; the risks of greed and ignorance and pride and glory and ignorance and the very scary truth that our homes could be taken from us or maybe worst, we could become the monsters taking homes away from others. 

How can we avoid thinking like Columbus? Maybe that is what this day is about. 


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