Tag Archives: Christopher Columbus

Seattle Goes Native

Seal_of_Seattle

Seattle, Washington has become the latest city in the United States to rename Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples Day.” On October 6, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to celebrate the nation’s indigenous inhabitants instead of the Italian-born adventurer who didn’t know where he’d actually landed. Columbus Day has always been a point of contention for Native Americans. Saying that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America is akin to stating that Galileo “discovered” the moon. Many Americans of European extraction believe that Columbus technically opened the door for a new society. Most Indians feel it was the start of the world’s greatest and longest-lasting holocaust; the effects of which are still being felt today throughout the Western Hemisphere.

In 1992, celebrations for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage met with strong blowback from indigenous groups. A parade in Denver, for example, was canceled that year for fear that protests would turn violent. Some have, given the hostilities that exist; due, in no small part, to the racist ideologies of some White Americans, as well as the arrogance of some Italians. It’s odd because Columbus couldn’t get financial backing from his own people. In the 15th century, Italy was actually a collection of city-states that wouldn’t jell into a single nation until the 1860s. Even now, some people may refer to themselves as Sicilian, instead of Italian, which is like saying the sky is azure, not blue. Columbus turned to Spain and Queen Isabella I. He had wanted to find a western route to India to gain an advantage in the lucrative spice trade. It’s difficult to imagine now, but spices were as precious as gold and silver at the time.

I’ve always felt Native Americans should have their own holiday. I don’t see the point in revising Columbus Day; let the Italians have their holiday, if they want. All the renaming won’t change history. We simply can’t go back and make everything all better again. It’s happened, and we need to continue moving forward, while still acknowledging the past. We’re all part of the human race, so ethnic divisions serve no real purpose. Some day, I hope, everyone else will realize that.

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Columbus Day – Whatever!

The Christopher Columbus monument in Barcelona, Spain

Today is Columbus Day in the United States where narrow-minded Americans perpetuate the myth that Christopher Columbus discovered this country.  It remains a popular fallacy despite obvious proof that the Western Hemisphere was not devoid of humans when Columbus and his fellow seafarers arrived.  As someone who is part Indian (Mexican), this is a particularly vexing situation.  But, as someone who is also Caucasian (Spaniard and German), I know I can be critical.  For one thing, historical references can’t confirm exactly where Columbus landed.  Some say present-day Hispaniola; others state Cuba.  But, it’s pretty well understood that he didn’t make it to the American mainland.

We also have to understand some other facts that slip by the history texts, which have always had a Euro-Christian slant.  Italian-Americans celebrate Columbus as one of their own.  Evidence has surfaced in recent years, however, that the intrepid explorer was not actually a humble Italian weaver, but a Polish immigrant.  Manuel Rosa, a professor at Duke University, claims that Columbus was the son of Vladislav III, an exiled king from Poland.

More importantly, though, Columbus had to seek help from Spain to finance his voyage.  In the late 15th century, Italy was not actually a country, but a collection of city-states; fractured and in constant conflict.  Apparently, no member of Italian royalty saw the value in Columbus’ grand scheme.  Thus, he turned to Spain and received approval from Queen Isabella – one of my paternal ancestors.

Another myth is that Columbus had deliberately set out to discover the Americas, or traveled as a result of some divinely inspired vision.  In reality, he wanted to find a westward route to India’s east coast and thus gain an advantage in the lucrative spice trade.  Spices were as valuable as gold and silver at the time.  Columbus believed Asia was where the Americas are and initially thought he’d arrived somewhere off the coast of China.  Then, he thought he’d actually made it to India and thus, called the Taíno peoples of the Caribbean “Indians.”

Yet another major fact that goes unreported is that Columbus was not the first European to arrive in the Western Hemisphere.  As Jared Diamond points out in his seminal book Collapse How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, scientists now realize that Norse Vikings arrived in North America nearly 500 years earlier.  In the 1960’s, archaeologists unearthed remnants of a village in present-day Newfoundland known as “L’Anse Aux Meadows.”  Norse literature also points to a land the Vikings called “Vinland.”  The Norse had begun their march across the North Atlantic around A.D. 800; first populating the Orkney, Shetland and Faeroe islands, then moving onto Iceland and Greenland.  There’s even some evidence that they’d made as far down North America’s eastern coastline as present-day Florida.  But, that remains to be proven.  By the time they landed in Newfoundland, however, they’d depleted much of their own energy and resources; thus any permanent settlement was unlikely.

But, here’s something even more important: people first arrived in the Americas between 15,000 and 25,000 years ago, if not sooner.  They’d branched out across the entire Western Hemisphere, even reaching the southernmost tip of South America, long before Columbus started thinking about his trip.  They built complex, intricate and highly-advanced societies – without firearms and without horses or cattle – and lived as best they could for all those millennia.

I’ve seen colorful illustrations of European men adorned in velvet and silk arriving on virgin American shores; their majestic ships moored in the distant background, carrying oversized crucifixes to which the scantily-clad Indians responded by dropping to their knees in automatic subjugation.  But, it’s just not true.  Columbus’ venture was a matter of commerce, not faith.  The concept of spreading Christianity came later, as Spaniards began settling into México and then, as the English and the French began moving westward across North America.  Some Indians allowed themselves to be converted to Christianity; more as a matter of survival, though, than some sort of mystical divine intervention.  Others, however, strongly resisted and were subsequently beaten down by White settlers who used their religiosity more as a tool of oppression than benevolence.

Investigations into the history of the Americas are ongoing, but in recent years, research has gradually proven the Siberian migration hypothesis to be true.  One study found “a unique genetic mutation” that exists only in both the indigenous peoples of Siberia and Native Americans.  Other recent data suggests that Japanese seafarers made it to South America’s Pacific coast around 3000 B.C.  Scientists have found similarities in pottery among Japan’s Jomon culture and coastal Ecuadorian Indians.  They also noticed that “the nautical capability of Chinese sea-going rafts” were identical to those of indigenous Peruvian and Ecuadorian peoples.  Moreover, archaeologists have found early specimens of the peanut – which is native to South America – in China.  That humans populated just about every corner of the Western Hemisphere is testament to overall human ingenuity and determination.  That they – we – have survived 500 years of disease, exploitation and genocide is even more impressive.

None of this is historical revisionism, as some staid elitists might claim.  The facts are now coming forward and being revealed, whether the old-timers like it or not.  It’s a mixed heritage.  I’m glad, for the most part, that Europeans made it over here.  But, what they did to the indigenous peoples cannot be underestimated or dismissed.  While nothing can be done about it now, it’s futile to ignore historical facts – even if it puts a damper on all those Columbus Day picnics and yard sales at Wal-Mart.

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Christopher Columbus May Have Been Polish

Columbus

This story made the news last year, but it’s worth repeating.  Portuguese historian Manuel Rosa has uncovered evidence that navigator and explorer Christopher Columbus – a heroic figure to the Italian people – may have actually been Polish.  In Columbus: The Untold Story, published in Spain, Rosa, a professor at Duke University in North Carolina, claims that Columbus was the son of exiled Polish King Vladislav III and a Portuguese noblewoman.  Columbus, declares Rosa, may have lied to protect his true identity.

The conventional tale states that Columbus was born in 1451 as the son of humble Genovese weavers.  But, Rosa believes the explorer was able to convince the Spanish monarchy to finance his voyage across the Atlantic only because he was descended from royalty himself.

According to Rosa, Columbus was trained as a pilot in Portugal and lived in Madeira where he married Filipa Moniz, a Portuguese noblewoman and daughter of Bartolomeo Perestrello, a Knight of the household of Prince Henry the Navigator, Captain and Governor of Porto Santo, a smaller nearby island at northeast of Madeira.

Columbus’s 1479 marriage to Filipa Moniz, who was an elite member of the Order of Santiago, required the approval of King John II of Portugal indicating the recognition by the King of Columbus’s aristocratic lineage.

About his theory being met with some reservation by other researchers, Rosa welcomes the challenge.  “Although there are many academics familiar with my research that support my conclusions,” he says, “I understand that this will take some time to work its way through the big machine of academia, the media, and the public’s inquiring minds.  But in the end, I am confident the change will have to happen, especially if an English language edition gets published.”

I know a lot of Italians will probably get upset at this revelation, but my personal lack of political correctness doesn’t give a damn.  Some Italians – like many others – still perpetuate the myth that Columbus discovered the Americas, as if the land was devoid of people and civilizations.  Regardless of Columbus’ true identity, it doesn’t deflect from the fact that he wasn’t the first person in the Western Hemisphere, nor was he the first European.  Sometimes history’s corrections are painful but necessary.

Christopher Columbus’s house on the island of Porto Santo, Madeira archipelago, now the Columbus Museum.

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