Growing up, we were taught that Christopher Columbus was a courageous explorer who fundamentally changed the trajectory of civilization for the better by discovering the New World. But is this the whole truth?
Columbus Day is a recognized federal holiday in the United States, for which several retailers have blow out sales and schools provide fun activities for children. But do Americans actually know whom they are celebrating? Most would probably say something along the lines of the jingle “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” when trying to explain what Columbus Day is all about. They are correct, but they are missing some crucial facts that our educational system conveniently left out when teaching us about Columbus as kids.
King Ferdinand of Spain sponsored Columbus’ four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean in the hopes of finding a quicker route to the Orient, which would have allowed Spain to bypass the arduous route by land. Seems fairly innocent, but what takes place next is morally perverse.
When it came to dealing with the indigenous people, their presence was more of an obstacle for Columbus because it complicated his goal of extracting resources for Spain. Columbus used violence against the native people, enslaved them, forced them to convert to Christianity and unknowingly introduced a ton of new diseases, like smallpox, that had ruinous long-term effects on the native people, according to History.com. His actions upon arriving in the New World devastated their population sizes as well as their culture.
One of the most thought provoking aspects about Columbus is the fact that people still believe that he discovered America. First off, you cannot discover something that has already been populated by the native people of that land. Secondly, he never made it to the U.S. Rather, he landed in the Bahamas, but never America. I don’t see how you can discover something when you have never even seen it. So why are we celebrating a man for discovering America when in fact it was impossible for him to discover it? The world may never know.
According to Christopher Minster, a Latin American History expert, Columbus had promised his crew a reward to whoever saw land first during their voyage in 1492. One of his sailors, Rodrigo de Triana, was the first to see an island that is a part of the Bahamas. Unfortunately, Columbus told the crew that he had seen the island the night before and he kept the gold reward for himself.
Columbus was said to be a very religious man yet he sentenced people to death, had people raped and tortured, was greedy and the list continues. As such, our education system needs to address all of the facts surrounding Columbus’ arrival to the New World, no matter how grotesque.
The more we learn about the real life of Columbus, the more we will begin to combat the historical illiteracy which allows him to be exalted and glorified as an American hero.
Currently, the federal government and 23 states (plus D.C.) provide their workers with the day off as a paid holiday, according to the Pew Research Center. Reducing that number to zero would be a step in the right direction.