Written by P. Humbargar
Celebrating the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World has taken place in various forms in the Americas since colonial times, primarily as a way to promote patriotic ideals. Columbus Day has been recognized as a national holiday in the U.S. since 1937 and falls on the second Monday in October.
Several states, though not all, also recognize this day as an official holiday. In some communities, there are parades and celebrations in honor of Columbus. And a small number of communities will recognize the day as Indigenous People’s Day, a type of anti-Columbus Day that celebrates Native American culture. More often, however, it seems that the day passes without much thought on the part of most people.
Recognizing the “discovery” of America by Columbus has been a controversial issue for generations. During the 19th century, opposition to honoring Columbus in the U.S. came mainly from persons wanting to limit immigration—especially the immigration of Catholics and Italians, groups closely associated with Columbus. Today, the opposition comes from Native Americans and others who advocate for a truer representation of European colonization of the Americas and the destructive effects it had upon the indigenous people.
Given the controversy surrounding Columbus, parents and educators no doubt wonder what to teach elementary-age children about this period in history and whether there should even be a day set aside to honor Columbus’s first voyage and landing in the New World.
There are compelling arguments on both sides, but what matters is whether we really want young children to feel like they should have to take a side. Our country is rich in its cultural diversity, and as such, children can better benefit by learning in a less divisive way about the many heritages their ancestors came from—whether their ancestors were the Native Americans, who inhabited our country first, or those who came later, either by choice or by force. In a country as diverse as ours, attempts to romanticize or demonize any one particular historical figure or culture serve no useful purpose as far as educating our children.
Of course, this doesn’t answer the question as to whether there should be a Columbus Day, or an alternative Indigenous People’s Day. Perhaps we need both; perhaps neither. It is unlikely that a consensus could ever be reached on the issue, so maybe we should instead use this day to celebrate the innumerable positive contributions the diverse cultures that make up the U.S. have made in the past and continue to make today. Teaching children, from an early age, to respect and value all people and all cultures seems more important than having a certain day set aside to honor any specific person or culture.
How do you intend to observe Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day? Share your plans with Chelsea in the comments section!