Christopher Columbus, speaking with an emissary as Chris sets foot on the beaches of Miami: “I wanna take a few of you guys back with me in the boat to prove I discovered you.”
Emissary: “What you mean discover us? We discover you!”
Columbus: “You discovered us?”
Emissary: “Certainly. We discover you on beach here. It's all how you look at it.”
Columbus: “Yeah, I never thought of that.”
Denver has one of the biggest Columbus Day parades in the U.S. and one of the largest protests by the Native American community against celebrating the life of the man who they say single-handedly brought death, disease and destruction to the Original Nations.
We learned in school that Columbus discovered the New World in an attempt to find an easier route from Europe to India to make the spice trade less expensive. This trip of discovery, as it is today, was for business and profit. Chris called the original settlers of the New World “Indians” because he thought he had made it to India.
Chris never set foot in North America. He discovered the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, today’s home of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He “discovered” Central and South America and Cuba. But not Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia or Mississippi. Especially not Missouri.
His four trips to the New World did bring diseases that were unknown to the people of the land and to which they did not have an immunity. Many did die as a result.
So why celebrate Columbus Day at all? Why not rename it “Italian and Spanish Day” in honor of Columbus, and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, who sponsored the trip. Most students of world history are never taught that it was these two royals who ordered the Inquisition and the murder and expulsion of Jews and non-Christians from Spain. There is a strong possibility Chris was a Jew on his mother’s side.
Instead of Columbus, why don’t we celebrate Leif Erikson, the first European to set foot on North American beaches? Is it because Leif never made it to Boston, only Nova Scotia?
With my own heritage from Poland, Erikson and the Vikings (Poland was a Viking settlement), I personally would prefer that Columbus be left out of the picture entirely.
Did you know there is a holiday for our Viking adventurer? Oct. 9 is Leif Erikson Day. I did not know that until I researched this article. Why not combine Erikson and Columbus days to make the second Monday of October “Discovery Day”? That way, Americans can include the Chinese and Japanese explorers who might have landed on the west coast of North America hundreds of years before Erikson, and the Asians who were the first to set foot in North America.
Imagine the roads this nation and the world could have taken if the Vikings or Japanese or unnamed Asian explorers were celebrated as the “founders.” The possibilities are endless.
I am not advocating rewriting the lesson plans for our children — OK, I am. But if America is the great pluralistic society we claim, why not expand our children’s education to include what really happened? As our science improves and our discoveries continue, our history books need to keep up.
My Sept. 17 column was a letter to the University of Missouri’s journalism students about facts and “truth.” The beginnings of our nation did not occur as we were taught. I understand that the discoveries of adventurers before Columbus might cause an epidemic of cognitive dissonance, but so be it.
On Monday, regardless of whether you have the day off, remember: Columbus was not the first person to set foot on western soil. Freberg was right. It really is about who discovered whom.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.