What exactly are we celebrating?

Growing up, I learned the familiar story of Columbus, his three ships and his “discovery” of America. For years, I had no reason to doubt this version of history. But as a student of Latin American Studies and as a responsible global citizen, I will not celebrate a holiday glorifying one of the most violent moments in history.

My first job was with an International NGO, with projects in Bolivia and Guatemala. One of my co-workers, an Aymara woman from Bolivia, angrily swept into a meeting one day, demanding an explanation for why “Columbus Day” was on our calendar of holidays for that year. How obvious it seemed then, that we should not be celebrating the accidental encounter between Western Europe and the civilizations of the Americas. How obvious that the violence, disease and imperialism that ensued were nothing to rejoice or take time off for.

But, we continue to celebrate this day – with parades, with days off. I’m glad to be at work today, celebrating the continued strength of the people who were nearly overrun by my ancestors.

Nezua at the Unapologetic Mexican gets right to the heart of the matter:

We are all conquistadores, given the right opportunity and weakness. And yet, we are also always able to act otherwise. To consider the culture—feelings, reality, ritual, values—of another, to ask rather than to demand, to share rather than to steal, to think collectively, rather than hierarchically or patriarchically. Not only every day is this within our reach, but from moment to moment.

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