On Saturday, tens of thousands of people marched on the streets of Santiago, Chile. They supported the Mapuche indigenous people, who have been in a long fight for the return of their ancestral lands and an end to arrest and harassment of their activists. On the 521st anniversary of the Columbus voyage’s “discovery” of the New World, the protest is part of many intertwined resistance movements, in which indigenous people attempt to regain their land and sovereignty from both governments and multinational resource corporations. As the Spanish-speaking, Catholic cultural and political order has its origin with Columbus, it is a reminder that there exist a great many people affected daily by the crimes and actions of Columbus and his successors.
The march ended with water cannons and riot police presence. An earlier protest on Wednesday was seen as having an excessive and unprovoked police response (source).
October 12th is recognized as Columbus Day in the United States, one of ten federal holidays. Its recognition is one of the great symbolic crimes against indigenous people in the Americas. Christopher Columbus began a horrendous genocide against the Arawak people (I recommend the first chapter of A People’s History of the United States by Zinn for an overview), and by bringing natives back to Europe to be slaves, he inaugurated an Atlantic slave trade that came to affect millions of Africans. Because he was Genoese, he has been triumphed by the Italian-American community. This is why it is currently a holiday, and remains so.
However, celebrating Columbus is to celebrate a great criminal. Would the Italian community like to celebrate Caligula, or Mussolini? The actions of all three are similar. Murder on a mass scale, callous disregard for human life, abuse of power and authority.
This is why a movement exists to reflect on Columbus and ask the key question- do we wish to celebrate him alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln? A powerful video entitled “Reconsider Columbus Day” puts it simply.
Those that love freedom, value rights and democracy, and consider themselves against prejudice have to voice some kind of opposition. It can just be a Facebook status, or a Twitter hashtag. When the holiday comes and it fills the news, it’s time to get off the sidelines.
Columbus Day celebrates tragedy and triumphs genocide.