By President Barack Obama
When the explorers laid anchor in the Bahamas, they met Indigenous Peoples who had inhabited the Western hemisphere for millennia. As we reflect on the tragic burdens tribal communities bore in the years that followed, let us commemorate the many contributions they have made to the American experience, and let us continue to strengthen the ties that bind us today.
In the centuries since that fateful October day in 1492, countless pioneering Americans have summoned the same spirit of discovery that drove Christopher Columbus when he cast off from Palos, Spain, to pursue the unknown. Engineers and entrepreneurs, sailors and scientists, explorers of the physical world and chroniclers of the human spirit–all have worked to broaden our understanding of the time and space we live in and who we are as a people. On this 520th anniversary of Columbus’s expedition to the West, let us press forward with renewed determination toward tomorrow’s new frontiers.
As a native of Genoa, Italy, Christopher Columbus also inspired generations of Italian immigrants to follow in his footsteps. Today, we take time to celebrate the innumerable contributions that generations of Italian Americans have made to our country. Throughout 2013, Italy will also commemorate this rich heritage and the enduring bonds between our countries with the Year of Italian Culture in the United States, which Americans will join in celebrating.
In commemoration of Christopher Columbus’s historic voyage 520 years ago, the Congress, by joint resolution of April 30, 1934, and modified in 1968 (36 U.S.C. 107), as amended, has requested the President proclaim the second Monday of October of each year as “Columbus Day.”
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim October 8, 2012, as Columbus Day. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I also direct that the flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of our diverse history and all who have contributed to shaping this Nation.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.
Despite his multiracial background, Obama is no exception. He's barely mentioned race since he was elected in 2008. I've noted his myth-making several times before:
Michelle Obama on "doing the impossible"
Why US chose "Geronimo" codename
The Story of Us whitewashes history
Obama refused to use g-word
Settling the west in the Inaugural Address
Obama to dissolve tribes
Let's discuss what Obama wrote paragraph by paragraph:
1) Obama talks about Columbus's "spirit" but not his goals. Especially in Columbus's second through fourth voyages, when he knew he'd found something. He wanted gold...slaves...and territory under Christian domain.
There's nothing noble about any of these goals. As with most Westerners during most of Western history, he was motivated by a lust for wealth and power. He wasn't aiming to help anybody except himself.
Also, we do not celebrate immigrants in general on Columbus Day. Not the Irish who came in the 19th century, the Eastern Europeans who came in the 20th century, or the Latinos who are coming now. If you want to celebrate these things...great. Let's replace Columbus Day with Immigrants Day.
2) "The tragic burdens tribal communities bore in the years that followed"...what a sorry euphemism for genocide. To state the obvious, Columbus instigated the so-called tragic burdens. He forced the Indians to bring him gold and enslaved, mutilated, or killed those who didn't cooperate.
As indigenous people across two continents have said, why are we celebrating this thug? Hitler had an innovative spirit too; who else would've thought to incinerate an entire ethnic group in ovens? It's asinine and immoral to celebrate someone's "spirit" without noting the intentions and consequences of that spirit.
3) This paean to explorers ignores the fact that most immigrants have been driven by economic necessity, not a quest for knowledge. It further ignores the fact that many arrived here as indentured servants or slaves, not willing travelers.
But if you want to celebrate explorers instead of immigrants...great. Let's replace Columbus Day with Explorers Day.
4) This sounds like a big wet kiss to the Italian American community, who would squeal like pigs if we replaced "their" day. But why are we celebrating Italians rather than Germans, the French, the Dutch, Scandinavians, and other ethnic groups that have contributed to America? What's the justification for singling out Italians?
This proclamation tells us more about why we shouldn't celebrate Columbus Day than why we should. Namely, because it fabricates a US history that's only vaguely related to reality. It's all about making us feel good about ourselves, not informing us about history.
The proclamation doesn't tell us much more than the 1492 poem does. You know the one:
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
To bring back home, as he'd been told.
He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.
In conclusion, all this fairy-tale fantasizing about how we cherish Indians and immigrants is a crock. It has little to do with the last few centuries of history or with conditions today. It suggests why we should abolish Columbus Day or replace it with something worth celebrating.
For more on Columbus, see Columbus Day Celebrates Conquest and "6 Ridiculous Lies About Indians."