Columbus Day oversimplifies history

by Arya Maheshwari and Aditya Singhvi

“They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” As he first encountered the Taíno people of Guanahani (San Salvador) on Oct. 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus wrote his first impressions in his journal — that they were fit for servitude. 

That was only the beginning. Columbus and his crew proceeded to pillage, rape and enslave the native people, many of whom chose to commit suicide. Then came the wanton murders. When Columbus first arrived, historians estimate that there were about 300,000 Indians living on the island of Hispaniola. By 1550, there were only five hundred left. 

Yet how is Columbus best remembered in the public eye? Columbus Day is a holiday designed to instill a sense of fascination for the explorer and celebrate the connection between the “old” and “new” worlds. All most Americans remember is that “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” — neglecting the painful history of many Native Americans by overly simplifying their story. In the context of our 21st-century world, celebrating Columbus Day stands out like a sore thumb amidst our collective attempts to foster diversity and respect in our roles as global citizens. 

In the context of our 21st-century world, celebrating Columbus Day stands out like a sore thumb amidst our collective attempts to foster diversity and respect in our roles as global citizens. ”

— Arya Maheshwari and Aditya Singhvi

Although many argue that Columbus’s importance in world history justifies holding a day for him, designating a holiday for a person carries a significance of commendation that goes beyond solely remembrance. Other major observances — Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Veterans Day — all celebrate those who sacrificed to uphold ideals of liberty. Should someone who persecuted an entire population be placed on the same pedestal as a MLK, a man who led his people out of brutal oppression? 

To be sure, Columbus and his voyages remain an integral part of world and U.S. history, and they can not and should not be forgotten. Not observing Columbus Day does not imply that this history will be neglected. Rather, it would affirm our commitment to remembering both a tale of discovery but also its repercussions on the victims when we reflect on the lasting effects of Christopher Columbus.