Really, why do we celebrate this so-called holiday?
Seventy-three years ago, President F. D. Roosevelt declared Columbus Day a federal holiday after the Knights of Columbus organization put a little squeeze on him. (I can’t help humming the theme to the Godfather as I write this!) And I can’t help laughing when I think about who they’ve picked to honor.
Chrisoffa Corombo (his real name before it was Anglicized) isn’t really a person we should look up to. The fact that he discovered America? That little notion taught to us in school is a little skewed. Backed by the Spanish monarchs, he did discover the “New World”- the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cuba- but he never set foot in North America. That distinction belongs to the Amerigo Vespucci and the Vikings- the people I’m partially descended from. Why don’t we see any Viking parades going down Fifth Avenue?
We’re taught in school that those who opposed Corombo thought the Earth was flat, but that wasn’t the case at all. Even in ancient times, sailors knew the Earth was round and scientists not only suspected it was a sphere, but were even able to estimate its size. And speaking of sailors, it wasn’t even Corombo’s idea to sail west from Spain- it was his brother Bartholomew’s idea. Arriving in the Carribean, Corombo and his crew forced natives into slavery, tortured and killed thousands while serving as their governor, and brought syphilis and gonorrhea and smallpox from Europe. He was an opium addict and a womanizer. He frequently hanged members of his crew for disobeying him. Hmmm. Not a nice man at all. Far into his old age, Corombo was still convinced he had sailed the coast of Asia. Confused much?
As a kid, I remember making little paper ships (I can still smell the paste) and naming the three ships of Columbus. The Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria- the schools didn’t even get that right. The Nina was really the Santa Clara- it was nicknamed the Nina for it’s owner, Juan Nino of Moguer. I guess it flowed better in the school poems we were taught calling it the Nina. Corombo was not well-known or well-liked in his lifetime. In fact, he was not revered until hundreds of years after his death by British colonists in the States who didn’t want to honor pioneer John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), since that’s who the British government commisioned to explore the world. Good work, guys. Honor the drug addled killer…
So once again, I’m working on a day when most of the rest of America is home or apple-picking or on a Church retreat or in Vermont having a good time. I’m in the city watching a parade of thousands of mis-informed Italian-Americans supposedly celebrating the life of a mediocre explorer, shaking my head at the lunacy of it. Meh. Another excuse to eat and drink too much and carry on in the subways. At least my commute was quick and easy today.