(CNN Spanish) — Day of race? Columbus Day? Indigenous resistance Day? Day of respect for cultural diversity? And all these names to talk about the same episode? Indeed, the commemoration is not known in the same way throughout the continent, but it is not only that. In recent times there has been a resignification that completely changed the way in which we remember the arrival of Columbus in America.
Historically, the American continent remembers the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to America on October 12 of each year, or the second Monday of the month. While in the US the commemoration bore his name —Columbus Day or Christopher Columbus Day—, in Latin America it was known as Día de la Raza, and even in many countries they continue to name it that way. In Spain, finally, it is known as the Hispanic Heritage Day or, formally, National Holiday.
Indeed, Columbus’ expedition made landfall on Guanahani Island in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. Along with a crew of 90 people, they had set sail about 10 weeks earlier aboard the ships named Niña, Pinta and Santa María.
However, in recent times more and more historians discuss the way in which that episode is remembered. And it is not just about historical revisionism. The questions raised in many of the American countries came from the hand of broad movements that disputed the meaning given to this date.
Columbus was not the first person to reach the continent and much less was he responsible for “discovering” it. Rather, indigenous peoples had been living in the Americas for centuries, long before the arrival of the Spanish expedition.
“We should be asking ourselves why we as Americans continue to celebrate it without knowing the true history of its legacy, and why a party was created in the first place,” Leo Killsback, a citizen of the Cheyenne Nation of the United States, told CNN in 2016. North and assistant professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University.
However, there is no doubt that Columbus’s voyages had an “undeniable historical impact, ushering in the great era of Atlantic exploration, trade, and eventually colonization by Europeans,” said historian David M. Perry, who wrote an opinion piece for CNN on Columbus Day.
Enslavement of indigenous peoples
During his voyages through the Caribbean islands and the coasts of Central and South America, Columbus encountered members of the indigenous peoples, whom he called “Indians.”
He and his men were responsible for the enslavement of many of those natives, whom they also treated with extreme violence and brutality, according to history.com.
Throughout his years in America, Columbus forced the natives to work for profit. Later, he sent thousands of Taino “Indians” to Spain to sell them, many of whom died on the journey. The natives who were not sold into slavery were forced to search for gold in the mines and work on the plantations, all for the benefit of the Spanish crown.
While he was governor of what is now the Dominican Republic, on the island of Hispaniola, Columbus killed many natives who rebelled against him, according to History. Later, and to prevent it from happening to adults, he made the corpses parade through the streets.
Unknown diseases on the continent
Furthermore, indigenous societies in the Americas “were decimated by exposure to Old World diseases, crumbling under the weight of the epidemic,” Perry wrote in his CNN op-ed.
The Taíno population was not immune to diseases such as smallpox, measles, and the flu, which were brought to their island of Hispaniola by Columbus and his men. In 1492, there were approximately 250,000 indigenous people on Hispaniola, but by 1517, there were only 14,000 left, according to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF).
Some historians believe the impact of European and African settlers in the New World possibly killed up to 90% of native populations and was deadlier than the Black Death in medieval Europe, the OMRF said.
How this date has changed for the entire continent
In the United States, mMore than 100 cities—including Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco—as well as entire states—including Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont, and Oregon—replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Also, in many places around the world, statues of Christopher Columbus were removed or replaced.
The aim of the movement, which has emerged in recent years, is to raise awareness about Spain’s treatment of indigenous peoples and respect and celebrate indigenous culture.
On October 8, 2021, the president of the USAJoe Biden, proclaimed October 11 as the Day of the Indigenous Peoples, based on the recognition of the death and destruction suffered by native communities after Columbus’ voyage to North America in the late 16th century, which marked the beginning of an era of European exploration of the Western Hemisphere.
In MexicoIn 2020, the authorities removed a bronze statue of Columbus from the central avenue Paseo de la Reforma, where it had been since the end of the 19th century. Although originally it was removed for maintenance and conservation tasks, a year later it was replaced by a statue of an indigenous woman. The purpose of the change was to recognize the contributions of the original peoples of Mexico.
In Argentina For almost a century, the “discoverer” of America had a privileged place in Buenos Aires, behind the Casa Rosada, seat of the Presidency. However, in 2013 the Government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner decided to remove it from that site, as reported by EFE, and argued the need to do maintenance tasks. The case generated a great controversy in which the Justice was even involved.
Who took his place? Juana Azurduy, a figure linked to the struggle for independence that on the page of the Ministry of Culture of Argentina She is described as “the woman who left everything for the independence revolution, losing her family and fighting against the Spanish empire in the last years of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.” After a long process, the Columbus sculpture was relocated in 2017 in front of the Río de la Plata near one of the city’s airports.
Since 2010, Argentina celebrates the Day of Cultural Diversity, with the aim of reflecting on the historical conditions of the original peoples.
In Chiliin October 2019, the plans to increase the price of the subway ticket in the city of Santiago triggered protests -several of them violent- that showed the whole world the discontent of a society that rejected the increase in the cost of living, the low income and inequality.
By early November, approximately 60 statues had been damaged, according to Chile’s National Monuments Council. Among the protesters’ targets were several figures linked to the colonization process, including Christopher Columbus.
In bolivia, a year earlier, the protesters did not reach that point, but they came close. In November 2018, the statue of Columbus located on the popular Paseo del Prado in La Paz woke up vandalized with “Colón genocidal” posters that called for his removal, reported the EFE agencywho interviewed one of the restorers.
In Venezuela this dispute occurred many years before. In 2004, the supporters of the late President Hugo Chávez made a “symbolic trial” of the statue of Columbus in the Plaza Venezuela in Caracas and the sentence was to tear it down, reported the BBC, who interviewed one of the organizers. This happened two years after Chavez changed the name of “Día de la Raza” to “Día de la Resistencia Indígena”. Years later, in 2009, Chávez ordered the removal of the last statue of Columbus that remained in the Venezuelan capital.
With information from Alicia Lee of CNN