CONFUSION REIGNS

I remember distinctly the following conversation when I was in first grade. Back then I was called Eddie. Don't call me Eddie anymore.

Eddie: "What part of America did Christopher Columbus find?"
Teacher: "Today it's part of the Bahamas."
Eddie: "So he didn't discover America?"
Teacher: "Well we call all of this the Americas."
Eddie: "And there were people there when he got there?"
Teacher: "Yes, there were indians."
Eddie: "Mrs. _____, why was Columbus important?"
Teacher: "We have to move on."

It's pretty trite at this point to point out that the man whose name had to be anglicized to make him sound un-foreign enough to be an American hero wasn't all he is cracked up to me. Nobody really cares because holidays are hard enough to come by in the United States and nobody wants to lose this one. A day off is a day off. But my god is it silly watching people actually "celebrate" Columbus Day. Maybe this, along with wearing track suits everywhere, is the only good thing about being an old Italian man and we shouldn't try to ruin it. In 2014, though, it's hard to believe anyone still takes seriously the idea that Senor Colon was a great man worthy of our admiration.

56 thoughts on “CONFUSION REIGNS”

  • "So he didn't discover America?" is a revealing confusion that could start a whole other discussion, because for everyone else in the world, "America" is a continent—"United States" is the country.

    Imagine if the citizens of one specific European country systematically referred to themselves as "The Europeans", you may think they were a mix of arrogant and poor in geography.

  • "So he didn't discover America?" is a revealing confusion* that could start a whole other discussion, because for everyone else in the world*, "America" is a continent—"United States" is the country.

    *Dude, he was 6.

    *To lots of people outside the US, particularly in the far east in my experiences, America = Hollywood, Disneyland, the Statue of Liberty, big money, big food, and a big middle class. America, unlike the European Union for example, is a brand to a lot of people, here and abroad.

  • I always enjoy when someone tries to rationalize his, ahem, excesses by "He was a man of his times".

    I can think of a LOT of people in history who fit that description and don't have holidays named after them.

  • "America" is not a continent. "The Americas" are two continents, North and South America. I can tell you 100 percent at least for Germans, "America" is a country, not a continent.

  • There is a movement to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Right-wingers routinely shit their pants when that one is mentioned.

  • I think he should be honored by his name in Italian, "Cristoforo Colombo", but that's really just because I want to celebrate Colombo Day and run around acting like Peter Falk.

  • I'm not a right-winger but I'm also not thrilled about "Indigenous Peoples Day", because it's a terrible name that smacks of tone-deaf condescension.

    We can still call it "Columbus Day", you know. Even if we choose to "celebrate" it by discussing the ACTUAL history of "discovery" and European colonization of the Americas. Keeping the old name sort of adds frisson to the comversation.

  • You know who else was a man of his times? The Dude. As in, His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing.

    I propose, in place of Columbus Day, a holiday in honor of the Dude. It could be called, Dia de la Duderino (I'm not into the whole brevity thing, and that might not be correct Spanish, but I don't speak Spanish and I'm too lazy to look it up, which is sort of fitting, no?).

    Anyway, to honor His Dudeness, everyone would take off work, go bowling, and drink White Russians all day.

    Whaddaya think?

  • I'm not a right-winger but I'm also not thrilled about "Indigenous Peoples Day", because it's a terrible name that smacks of tone-deaf condescension.

    Really? Hmm. Maybe we could see what the indigenous people (or, rather, the descendants of the indigenous people who were here when Señor Colón showed up) have to say about it. A quick and dirty search on Google turns this up, and lo, it would appear that the descendants of the indigenous people actually proposed the idea.

  • We should just call it Genocide Day, because it was the beginning of a 400-year effort to wipe out the people who were already here — in both North and South America. And don't get me started on The Pilgrims, who were basically illegal immigrants and whose first act upon arriving was to discover — and steal – the Indians' winter supply of corn. But we can save that story for Thanksgiving.

  • And don't get me started on The Pilgrims, who were basically illegal immigrants and whose first act upon arriving was to discover — and steal – the Indians' winter supply of corn.

    And they started dropping anchor babies! Don't forget the anchor babies! (Full disclosure: I am an anchor baby. :-) )

  • Missed the second half of this comment, for some reason.

    We can still call it "Columbus Day", you know. Even if we choose to "celebrate" it by discussing the ACTUAL history of "discovery" and European colonization of the Americas. Keeping the old name sort of adds frisson to the comversation.

    I get that the point of this would be to have "Columbus Day" as an "ironic" holiday of sorts, but the fact is that this point would go sailing over the heads of most people and give ammo to the RWNJ/Faux News crowd who still think Columbus is deserving of the honor of having his name slapped on to a federal holiday. Andrew Ti has addressed a similar issue on his podcast on more than one occasion, when he was asked if it was okay for Saturday Night Live or other comedic performances to do skits in blackface as a demonstration of anti-racism. His answer was that no, it is not, because it gives ammo to racists who can take the video clips and make gifs of the performers bouncing around in blackface, with the audio and other context removed. And now you have gifs all over the internet of these known left-leaning public figures performing in blackface, and those gifs will be there forever.

  • Misterben nails it–"Indigenous Peoples Day" is the kind of name that comes about when Political People try to engage in neologism and fail spectacularly. (See also: the howlingly ignorant–etymologically–term "homophobia"–a very real and serious thing rendered stupid by good intentions and poor education.)

    The impulse to retcon Columbus Day into another, more historically aware holiday makes sense, of course, but renaming it would still tie the date to the birth of the man many of us would rather not remember. (Godwin is watching over my shoulder, telling me not to go for the cheap shot of "renaming Hitler's birthday 'Holocaust Day,' and he is right to do so.)

    We need Native American Heritage Month to be a real thing–to receive the kind of serious attention that Black History Month receives. (Which admittedly, isn't as much as it should be, but still–we all know it's February, etc.) We need a national holiday that urges remembrance, like MLK Day. We don't need to revamp Columbus Day. We just need to forget it–let the Italians pick a Saint day to make their own, like the Irish did–and remember, instead, the people who had the misfortune to discover a bunch of Spaniards on a beach.

  • It's the word "indigenous" that's the croaker. Four syllables! That's one too many, by golly, and brands the user as one of those hated smarty pantses.

    "First Peoples Day"?

  • @Sarah; we could drop the fact that "Christopher Columbus" was one-a them EYE-talian furrners, and watch how fast Fox and the rwnj's disavow him.

  • Don't forget playing bocce.

    I also wish we could kill the myth that Signore Colombo proved the earth was round. In fact the scholars who argued against his being able to make it to India via a westward route had a pretty good calculation of the circumference of the earth (20,000 miles vs. the actual 25,000). Colombo/-us fudged his data to come up with a figure of 8,000 miles to make the journey sound doable.

  • Captain Blicero says:

    @ Charles

    The point is not really as intelligent as you think. When I say that Columbus discovered America, I *am* talking about the continent, not the United States. How could Columbus possibly have discovered the US? The U.S. is a government, arbitrary lines in the world, a human fiction. No intelligent person could mean otherwise. So your comment is just useless posturing.

  • Hey, I'm an old Italian and only wore a track suit, or as we called them, 'warmups', when I ran track, but I think the phenomenon you're referring to is more of an east coast thing and I'm on the other coast.
    And as for Colombo, as I was explaining to some friends the night before last, it's difficult to honor the guy when you take into account that genoside thing.
    And while we're on the subject of who discovered America, it's my belief that Lief Eriksson was first when he landed and set up a colony in present day Newfoundland around 1000 CE. So, why don't we celebrate Eriksson Day?

  • @Captain Blicero: When people say that Columbus discovered America, most people interpret that as "Columbus discovered the territory that would later become the United States." This is of course completely false. Also, you can't discover a place where other people are already living. Every Columbus Day I wish I could recruit a shipload of Native Americans to sail across the Atlantic and discover Italy.

  • @Andrew – Turn that "shipload of First Peoples to discover Italy" idea into a Kickstarter and then shut up and take my money!

  • Living in an area that roughly was half Scandinavian and half Italian made for some fun conversation…..not all that fun really…..just stupid.

  • Vikings from Iceland were fishing for cod off the Labrador coast (and selling the fish to Europe) centuries before Columbus got the idea of a round earth from Muslim texts translated from Greek texts.
    Leif Erikson lead a party that landed on North America early in the 11th century and was reportedly killed by a native American's arrow.
    It seems the Vikings were at great pains to keep the secret of their fishing grounds from leaking out to the competition so they get no credit for the discovery.
    Truth is they thought it was another island like Iceland and Greenland. There are unconfirmed stories of viking explorations further south to warmer climes.

  • Misterben nails it–"Indigenous Peoples Day" is the kind of name that comes about when Political People try to engage in neologism and fail spectacularly.

    I still say that what the descendants of the indigenous people have to say about Indigenous Peoples Day is entirely relevant. Note that the document I cited above includes a few lines about how their right to autonomy and self-determination has not been respected, and that they are demanding such now.

    The impulse to retcon Columbus Day into another, more historically aware holiday makes sense, of course, but renaming it would still tie the date to the birth of the man many of us would rather not remember. (Godwin is watching over my shoulder, telling me not to go for the cheap shot of "renaming Hitler's birthday 'Holocaust Day,' and he is right to do so.)

    A few things here. As our blogger host has already pointed out, nobody wants to give up the holidays we do have because holidays are hard to come by in the US. With the exception of a few states, Columbus Day is already there as a thing, and anybody promoting the idea of respecting First Peoples isn't going to make any friends by making people come in to work on a day when they didn't have to before. Also, in various countries in Latin America, they already are celebrating El Día de la Raza (the Day of the Race, to celebrate Hispanic culture) on what would be Columbus Day, with Argentina being the first to do it (as El Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural) in 1917 and Mexico starting the same with El Día de la Raza in 1928. Belize and Uruguay call it El Día de las Américas. We are way behind on this issue.

    I'll also point out here that it's not just Columbus Day. The dude has a goddamn country as well as a host of US cities and towns named after him. He even has his own asteroid. No one's celebrating Hitler like this (no one who is relevant, anyway); as a matter of fact, it's illegal in Europe to own Nazi paraphernalia and every time there's any sort of art or performance exhibit involving the image of Hitler they have to be careful about not glorifying him or even depicting him as a human being. Madame Tussauds has caught hell because visitors there do the Nazi salute at the wax figure of Hitler. Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day (or one of the interpretations of the Latin American observances) would be a step towards making peace with this issue.

  • @Andrew I have only 1/16 Cherokee blood, which makes me not unique at all, but I would pay for passage on your cruise to Italy.

  • Davis X. Machina says:

    Eh, there's roughly one bank holiday for each canonical period of American History as found in that doorstop of a book you had for high school American History:

    • Pre-discovery and European discovery era — Columbus.
    • Colonial/Revolutionary era — 4th of July
    • Early-mid republic — President's Day (Really Washington's Birthday)
    • Civil War — Memorial Day (really Decoration Day)
    • (The failure of) Reconstruction –MLK day.
    • 20th Century — Veterans' Day (really Armistice Day — WWI was the seminal 20th C. event)

  • To be fair to the guy whose name starts with Colo-, he was not the genocide committer. That came later. So I suppose one could celebrate the courage and the follow-the-dream-ness that it took to set off in an oversize life boat to sail perhaps forever.

    But, yeah, the eventual consequences were nothing to be proud of.

    Día de las Américas sounds like a winner to me. Americas Day for the anglophones perhaps. Short, to the point, reminds people that "America" includes many countries. And does not sound like a slogan from Howandaland.

  • the thing that Christopher Colon did that none of the other people who sailed to the Americas did was — tell everyone about it. I actually like this therefore to be a holiday, so that people understand the value of publicity.

    (Actually the best evidence I've ever seen that the famous Christopher is the first to publicize America is the spread of the chili pepper. By 1600 it was transplanted around the world, as integral to Chinese and Thai cooking as it was to certain European cuisines, e.g. Hungarian paprika. There's a value to publicity that's got nothing to do with reputation.)

    Apropos of nothing but I also want to comment here about certain idiots defending stupid behavior of protestors in Ferguson by saying that people who complain about violence haven't experienced racism. Well, when violence was A-OK the white people won hands down. I mean, didn't the Spanish get their hands on Inca gold "by any means necessary"? Didn't the Pilgrims believe they were entitled to rid the land their God had just given them of savages "by any means necessary"? Is that really the standard you want to use?

  • "whole other discussion, because for everyone else in the world, "America" is a continent—"United States" is the country."

    Actually it's not how "everyone else in the world" sees America. In most countries I've been to or lived in, "America" is the United States. In Arabic it is actually Amriika. The USA is the only country in both continents which bothered to put the word "America" in its name, and it is the recognized demonym. These terms don't always fit historical or geographical reality. Millions of citizens in Russia are not Russians, yet most people refer to all people from that country as such.

    Perhaps actually traveling to "the rest of the world" would tell you how they see America.

    "Imagine if the citizens of one specific European country systematically referred to themselves as "The Europeans", you may think they were a mix of arrogant and poor in geography."

    If that European country put the word "Europe" in its official name and had used the term European as a demonym, this comparison would be accurate.

    As for the main topic here, Christopher Columbus wasn't really "Italian." He was Genoese. Now before getting all pissed and saying: "BUT GENOA'S IN ITALY TODAY!" Realize that people in the 15th century did not give a shit, and this idea of an Italian nationality was virtually non-existent. Genoa, Venice, etc. were typically at war with each other, battling over trade rights and colonies. A large part of the peninsula consisted of the Papal states. Even today Italy, united only in 1861, has a lot of issues with inter-regional rivalry and hatred. Venice even has a growing separatist movement with a strong case for independence. The thought of some American going to Rome, not speaking a word of Italian, and telling actual Italian people "Hey, I'm Italian! My great-great-great grandma was from Sicily," makes me shudder.

  • Actually it's not how "everyone else in the world" sees America. In most countries I've been to or lived in, "America" is the United States. In Arabic it is actually Amriika. The USA is the only country in both continents which bothered to put the word "America" in its name, and it is the recognized demonym. These terms don't always fit historical or geographical reality. Millions of citizens in Russia are not Russians, yet most people refer to all people from that country as such.

    Perhaps actually traveling to "the rest of the world" would tell you how they see America.

    Or we could see what prominent people in the western hemisphere and outside of the United States have to say about it. I heard about this issue for the first time when I was taking a conversational French class as a high school freshman ::mumble:: years ago. Eduardo Galeano was complaining about the US usurping the name of "America" in his book Las venas abiertas de América Latína back in the early 1970s. José Martí wrote about the need to defend "Nuestra América" (our America, and he was NOT talking about the United States) back in the 1870s and 1880s. And he was living in Brooklyn and vacationing in upstate NY while exiled from Cuba, so he was not confused about what he meant by "our America." Bolívar and the other leaders of the revolution to liberate Hispanic America from Spain were riding under the banner of America while working to unite the various peoples of the continents (and that was before the United States decided to take half of the territory of Mexico; the US was much smaller and less relevant then). The modern day peoples of South and Central America are still talking about this too; I have a bachelor's degree in Spanish Language and Literature, and all of my professors (three Colombians, a Uruguayan, a Spaniard, and a Peruvian) discussed this in one way or the other.

    Maybe you could consider that those who are not you might have put more thought into this issue than is readily apparent to you?

  • Guess those folks should have considered putting the name "America" into the official names of their countries, right? Demonyms are flexible and don't necessarily conform to geography or ethnicity. I see nothing wrong with terms like Norteamericano or Estadounidense, but the proposed alternatives for "American" in English are idiotic and don't actually change anything.

  • Shit I forgot- Trying to get people to use different words is a hell of a lot easier than actually doing something about unfair US policies toward Latin American countries.

  • Sarah:

    The Spanish speaking world, while a large subsection of "the rest of the world", is not "the rest of the world" in total. I've not seen any such discussion or confusion outside of Spanish-language cultures. For example, I've never met a German who needed extra clarification when I said "I'm from America".

  • Shit I forgot- Trying to get people to use different words is a hell of a lot easier than actually doing something about unfair US policies toward Latin American countries.

    Where did I say that I didn't want to do anything about unfair US policies towards Latin American countries?

    The Spanish speaking world, while a large subsection of "the rest of the world", is not "the rest of the world" in total. I've not seen any such discussion or confusion outside of Spanish-language cultures. For example, I've never met a German who needed extra clarification when I said "I'm from America".

    Aaaaaaaand you managed to miss my point completely. Congratulations.

  • Jesus. With all the crimes committed by the American Government, some Social Justice Warriors spend time worrying about calling Citizens of the Polity Formally Known as the United States of America (CofPFKasUSA) "Americans".

    You may henceforth use a shortened version of my acronymL (CPFKUSA)

    And quoting one group of self-appointed "community spokesmen" as the Final Word on the horrible neologism "Indigenous Peoples' Day"…nah.

  • Jesus. With all the crimes committed by the American Government, some Social Justice Warriors spend time worrying about calling Citizens of the Polity Formally Known as the United States of America (CofPFKasUSA) "Americans".

    You know, I've never understood the reasoning behind using "Social Justice Warrior" as some sort of insult. Pointing out that I give a shit about people is somehow a bad thing? Really? Well then, I can haz "Social Justice Warrior" tee shirt?

    Also, pulling a "Dear Muslima" to insinuate that I'm somehow doing social liberalism wrong is just awesome. Hilarious, I tell you.

    And quoting one group of self-appointed "community spokesmen" as the Final Word on the horrible neologism "Indigenous Peoples' Day"…nah.

    Please excuse me if I give them more credence than some random white dude on a message board.

  • It's the pettyness and trivia that's the issue, Sarah. As exemplified by a focus on wording and signaling and in group think. It doesn't MATTER what we call the holiday.

    And yes, "Indigenous People's Day" is still a terrible neologism.

    As for "random white dude"….how is that in itself not a belittling, RACIST statement?

  • You know, I've never understood the reasoning behind using "Social Justice Warrior" as some sort of insult.

    Well, you do seem pretty shallow, so that's not surprising. The irony is in the "warrior" part. Sorta like "keyboard commando." You're not achieving "social justice" by acting like a whiny brat on the internets. Clear enough, pumpkin, or do I need to draw you a picture in crayon?

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    "First Peoples Day"?

    "Only Real Americans Day"

    You know, I've never understood the reasoning behind using "Social Justice Warrior" as some sort of insult.

    Because a "Social Justice Warrior" is someone who sits at their computer picking inconsequential arguments to try and assert their superiority by browbeating others with tedious kant. They're not into social justice, they're into "Social Justice" – ideological argument that has little or nothing to do with actual concerns.

    It's like asking why peole use "National Socialist" as an insult, when being a nationalist and being a socialist are not all that bad…

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    Please excuse me if I give them more credence than some random white dude on a message board.

    So you're discriminating against Brian based on his (presumed) race and gender. Hmm…

  • It doesn't MATTER what we call the holiday.

    So we can change it, then. It doesn't matter, right?

    And yes, "Indigenous People's Day" is still a terrible neologism.

    Even — though — the — indigenous — people — THEMSELVES — support — the — concept. Ooooookay.

    As for "random white dude"….how is that in itself not a belittling, RACIST statement?

    Oh! Excuse me! I didn't realize that would retroactively subject you to many centuries of subjugation and strip you of your cultural identity. I'm so sorry that you are offended.

    Clear enough, pumpkin, or do I need to draw you a picture in crayon?

    Yes, random internet person! Thank you so much for putting me in my place! I guess I'll never mention injustice again! Certainly not on blog posts that discuss injustice — oh, wait.

  • someone who sits at their computer picking inconsequential arguments to try and assert their superiority by browbeating others with tedious kant

    Coming from somebody who knows an awful lot of esoteric personal information about a certain racist sexist homophobic dipshit, and is a frequent contributor to a web site set up specifically to relay quotes and posts from same, this statement is, ah, very amusing.

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    Coming from somebody who knows an awful lot of esoteric personal information about a certain racist sexist homophobic dipshit,

    Hah!

    All on Google, m'dear.

  • I should point out that to most of us who are factory workers in a 'right to work" (South Dakota) have no holiday today. "right to work" here meaning I can fire you because, well just because. No reason needed.

  • Some people get twitchy when their heroes are revealed to have feet of clay. When I was a tyke, Edison was held up as The Great Inventor, and Tesla (who I admired) was depicted as a marginal crank. I've read a lot of demythologizing revisionism on that score, and I'm sure that there are Edisonians writing bilious screeds about it.

    One aspect of the treatment afforded the indigenes by Europeans that people who have not studied European history do not understand is this – the Europeans treated each other as badly as circumstances permitted. That the peoples encountered lacked firearms, metal armor, horses and resistance to smallpox made their exploitation easier. The mindset of 'let's kill them, steal their stuff and enslave the survivors ' was already firmly established before Signor Colombo set sail.

  • Good grief! Christopher Columbus led the explorations that resulted in the trade and political unification of the "old" and "new" worlds. Sure, Vikings and Basque fishermen visited North America, but a long term connection was never established. The Chinese celebrate Zhang Qian for "discovering" the Silk Road to the Middle East and Europe as if no one had ever made the trek before. Of course, he was the one who established the regular silk trade with the Romans and their contemporaries, just as Columbus established the long term relationship between the Americas and Eurasia and Africa.

    It makes sense to celebrate Columbus Day, even if we do it under another name. When Columbus landed in the Caribbean, he massively changed world history. Sure, his civilization was no prize. 1492 was the year of his big discovery, but also the start of the Spanish Inquisition. The new world civilizations were no prizes either what with regular, massive human sacrifices, violent warfare, vicious slavery and the like. Cortez was able to beat the Aztecs, because they were seen by the locals as evil conquerors. For all I know, the Spanish were a step up. At least no one ripped your heart out.

    Personally, I sick and tired of all this revisionism. The reason I can sit here typing on my home computer are linked to the exploratory and intellectual efforts of the European Renaissance and the European Enlightenment. Sure, we get conquistadors and nazis from time to time, but so does everyone else. We also got some good stuff like air conditioning, polio vaccines, and religious tolerance. (Or as LBJ put it: toilet paper, barbeque and finger fucking. Freud would have been proud.)

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