My teachers lied to me. Throughout grade school, Columbus Day was celebrated, picture books were read, and Dixie cups of Sprite and trail mix were enjoyed. Christopher Columbus was little more than a benevolent, cartoonish Italian. “Hey!” We would say to each other, “Gee! What a great guy, for discovering our country and all!”
No one bothered to mention that Christopher Columbus was a greedy, genocidal maniac.
It wasn’t until AP U.S. History in high school that I was told the truth: Columbus’ legacy is a trail of dead and enslaved that winds through the Caribbean. My teacher had us read, in addition to our “primary” text, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and as Matt Damon says in Good Will Hunting, “that book … knocked [me] on [my] ass.” Read some of Zinn’s work on Columbus here.
Shame on you teachers. You knew better. Every nation has, and needs, national myths, but when good historical research shows such a legend to be patently, offensively false, should we still have a national holiday in its memory?
Perhaps we should celebrate Pre-History Day and have school children reenact the harrowing journey across the land bridge from Asia. Or maybe we could inaugurate Native Americans Were Here First But Now They Are Third-Class Citizens Confined To Small Parcels of Poor Land Day.
I think the latter speaks for itself.