By Walt Leung
In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue—so the rhyme goes. Most students in the United States know that Columbus was actually searching for India when he stumbled upon the Americas. Some know that Columbus landed on San Salvador and never even touched North America. But nearly none know that the people he labelled as “Indians” were actually Tainos.
From childhood, we have always visualized Columbus in a positive light; we see him as an explorer, courageously venturing into the unknown. We learn about Columbus as the spearhead of the age of exploration, the discoverer of the Americas. However, history books never shed light on his greed and abuse. There is never information about his enslavement of the Tainos upon arrival, his insistence on their conversion to Christianity, his introduction of new diseases to the Americas. We never learn about the massive suffering he inflicted upon the Native Americans.
The extent of Columbus’s damage to the native population has never been accurately documented. Although we may be committing the butterfly effect fallacy to solely blame Columbus for the near-eradication of the entire Native American population, the death of nearly 250,000 Tainos within the first half-century upon his landing in present-day San Salvador can certainly be attributed to his brutish attitudes toward the natives. The Atlantic Slave Trade that occurred in the early days of American colonization has another name, perhaps one with a deeper connotation: the Columbian Exchange. Named after Columbus, who pioneered this triangular trade, the Columbian Exchange introduced not only food, culture and animals, but also slavery and death.
For a country that has been so progressive in championing civil liberties, LGBT rights and gender equality, the United States of America has largely ignored the plight of its indigenous natives. In 1937, the United States adopted Columbus Day as a national holiday, perhaps one of the greatest insults to Native Americans by honoring the man who arguably started the greatest genocide in recent history.
Although it can be said that our beloved United States of America would never have come into fruition had Columbus not sailed the ocean blue, it is important to remember that Columbus was never the angelic man we often portray him as. It’s time our nation follows in the footsteps of cities such as Berkeley, Calif. and instead renames this day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in an attempt to honor the natives who originally inhabited what we now call home.