Columbus Day is a national holiday in many countries of the Americas and elsewhere which officially celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492. The landing is celebrated as "Columbus Day" in the United States, as "Día de la Raza" ("Day of the Race") in some countries in Latin America, as "Día de la Hispanidad" and "Fiesta Nacional" in Spain, where it is also the religious festivity of la Virgen del Pilar, as Día de las Américas (Day of the Americas) in Belize and Uruguay, as Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity) in Argentina, and as Giornata Nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo or Festa Nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo in Italy as well as in Little Italys around the world.As the day of remembrance of Our Lady of the Pillar, 12 October had been declared a religious feast day throughout the Spanish Empire in 1730; the secular Fiesta de la Raza Española was first proposed by Faustino Rodríguez-San Pedro y Díaz-Argüelles in 1913.
Celebration of Columbus's voyage in the early United States is recorded from as early as 1792, when the Tammany Society in New York City (for whom it became an annual tradition) and also the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston celebrated the 300th anniversary of Columbus' landing in the New World. President Benjamin Harrisoncalled upon the people of the United States to celebrate Columbus's landing in the New World on the 400th anniversary of the event. During the anniversary in 1892, teachers, preachers, poets and politicians used rituals to teach ideals of patriotism. These rituals took themes such as citizenship boundaries, the importance of loyalty to the nation, and the celebration of social progress.
Many Italian-Americans observe Columbus Day as a celebration of their heritage, and the first such celebration was held in New York City on October 12, 1866. The day was first enshrined as a legal holiday in the United States through the lobbying of Angelo Noce, a first generation Italian, in Denver. The first statewide holiday was proclaimed by Colorado governor Jesse F. McDonald in 1905, and it was made a statutory holiday in 1907. In April 1934, as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope, Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed October 12 a federal holiday under the name Columbus Day.
Since 1971 (Oct. 11), the holiday has been fixed to the second Monday in October, coincidentally exactly the same day as Thanksgiving in neighboring Canada fixed since 1957. It is generally observed nowadays by banks, the bond market, the U.S. Postal Service, other federal agencies, most state government offices, many businesses, and most school districts. Some businesses and some stock exchanges remain open, and some states and municipalities abstain from observing the holiday. The traditional date of the holiday also adjoins the anniversary of the United States Navy (founded October 13, 1775), and thus both occasions are customarily observed by the Navy (and usually the Marine Corps as well) with either a 72- or 96-hour liberty period.
Local observance of Columbus Day
Actual observance varies in different parts of the United States, ranging from large-scale parades and events to complete non-observance. Most states celebrate Columbus Day as an official state holiday, though many mark it as a "Day of Observance" or "Recognition" and at least four do not recognize it at all. Most states that celebrate Columbus Day will close state services, while others operate as normal.
San Francisco claims the nation's oldest continuously existing celebration with the Italian-American community's annual Columbus Day Parade, which was established by Nicola Larco in 1868, while New York City boasts the largest, with over 35,000 marchers and one million viewers.
As in the mainland United States, Columbus Day is a legal holiday in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. In the United States Virgin Islands, the day is celebrated as both Columbus Day and "Puerto Rico Friendship Day."
Virginia also celebrates two legal holidays on the day, Columbus Day and Yorktown Victory Day, which honors the final victory at the Siege of Yorktown in the Revolutionary War.
The U.S. states of Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, South Dakota, and Vermont do not recognize Columbus Day at all; however, they mark the day with an alternative holiday or observance. Hawaii celebrates Discoverer's Day, which commemorates the Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii on the same date, the second Monday of October, though the name change has not ended protest related to the observance of Columbus's discovery. The state government does not treat either Columbus Day or Discoverer's Day as a legal holiday; state, city and county government offices and schools are open for business. Similarly, in 2016, Vermont started celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day. Because this change was made by Governor Peter Shumlin's executive proclamation, it only applies for 2016. In the future it would have to be issued by the sitting governor on a yearly basis, or officially changed by the legislature in order to become permanent. On the other hand, South Dakota celebrates the day as an official state holiday known as Native American Day. Until 2017, Oregon did not recognize Columbus Day, either as a holiday or as a commemoration; schools and public offices remained open.However, on Columbus Day, 2017, Oregon Governor Kate Brown renamed the holiday "Indigenous Peoples' Day," to remember those cultures and commemorate the struggles of native peoples during European colonization. Two additional states, Iowa and Nevada, do not celebrate it as an official holiday, but the states' respective governors are "authorized and requested" by statute to proclaim the day each year.
Several other states have removed the day as a paid holiday for government workers while still maintaining it either as a day of recognition, or as a legal holiday for other purposes. These include California and Texas.
The city of Berkeley, California, replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day in 1992, a move which has been followed by multiple other localities including Sebastopol and Santa Cruz, California; Dane County, Wisconsin; Seattle, Washington; Missoula, Montana; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Denver, Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; Los Angeles, California; Austin, Texas; and Salt Lake City, Utah.Various tribal governments in Oklahoma designate the day Native American Day, or name it after their own tribe.
Día de la Raza - The date Columbus arrived in the Americas is celebrated in some countries of Latin America. The most common name for the celebration in Spanish (including some Latin American communities in the United States) is the Día de la Raza ("day of the race" or the "day of the [Hispanic] people"), commemorating the first encounters of Europeansand the Native Americans. The day was first celebrated in Argentina in 1917, in Venezuela and Colombia in 1921, in Chile in 1922, and in Mexico, it was first celebrated in 1928. The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1957, when it was changed to the Día de la Hispanidad ("Hispanicity Day"), and in Venezuela it was celebrated under this title until 2002, when it was changed to the Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance). Originally conceived of as a celebration of Hispanic influence in the Americas, as evidenced by the complementary celebrations in Spain and Latin America, Día de la Raza has come to be seen by indigenous activists throughout Latin America as a counter to Columbus Day; a celebration of the native races and cultures and their resistance to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.
In the United States, Día de la Raza has served as a time of mobilization for pan-ethnic Latino activists, particularly since the 1960s. Since then, La Raza has served as a periodic rallying cry for Hispanic activists. The first Hispanic March on Washington occurred on Columbus Day in 1996. The name is still used by the largest Hispanic social justice organization in the nation, the National Council of La Raza.
Argentina - The Day of the Race was established in Argentina in 1916 by a decree of President Hipólito Yrigoyen. The name was changed to "Day of Respect of Cultural Diversity" by a Decree of Necessity and Urgency 1584/2010 issued by populist President Cristina Kirchner. Instigated by then Venezuelan President Chávez, she had the statue of Columbus removed from its original position near the Casa Rosada and replaced by one of Juana Azurduy.
Colombia - Colombia, the only country in the world with a name originated from Columbus himself, celebrates El día de la Raza y de la Hispanidad and is taken as an opportunity to celebrate the encounter of "the two worlds" and to reflect on the richness that the racial diversity has brought to the culture.
Venezuela - Between 1921 and 2002, Venezuela celebrated Día de la Raza along with many other Latin American nations. The original holiday was officially established in 1921 under President Juan Vicente Gómez. In 2002, under President Hugo Chávez, the holiday was changed to Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance) to commemorate the Indigenous peoples' resistance to European settlement. On October 12, 2004, a crowd of pro-government activists toppled the statue of Christopher Columbus in Caracas and sprayed allusive graffiti over its pedestal. The pro-Chávez website Aporrea wrote: "Just like the statue of Saddam in Baghdad, that of Columbus the tyrant also fell this October 12, 2004 in Caracas". The famous toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue had occurred the previous year.
Costa Rica - On September 21, 1994, Costa Rica changed the official holiday from Día de la Raza to Día del Encuentro de las Culturas (Day of the Encounter of Cultures) to recognize the mix of European, Native American (autochthonous populations), African and Asian cultures that constitute modern Costa Rican (and Latin American) culture and ethnicity. In accordance to the Costa Rican labor law, the holiday is observed on October 12. However, should this date coincide with a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, the employer shall agree that said holiday be postponed to the following Monday.
Brazil - In Brazil, Columbus Day is not celebrated. Instead, the country celebrates the arrival on the coast of present-day Brazil of the fleet led by Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral on April 22, 1500. This date is known in Brazil as "O Descobrimento do Brasil" (The Discovery of Brazil). The date began to be celebrated after the country's independence from Portugal, when Brazilian Emperor Pedro II instituted the date as part of a plan to foster a sense of nationalism among Brazil's diverse citizenry—giving them a common identity and history as residents of a unique Portuguese-speaking empire surrounded by Hispanic Republics of the Americas.  The Discovery of Brazil was originally celebrated on May 3, but scholars in the nineteen century found definitive evidence proving April 22 to be the actual date of the arrival of Cabral's fleet on South American shores.  In 2000, the government of Brazil used the date to celebrate 500 years of the existence of the country. The festivities, however, were met with protests by indigenous peoples who claimed it marked 500 years of genocide of indigenous Brazilians.
Caribbean observance - Some Caribbean countries also observe holidays related to Columbus Day. In Belize, October 12 is celebrated as Day of the Americas or Pan American Day. In the Bahamas, it was formerly known as Discovery Day, until 2001 when it was replaced by National Heroes Day.
Italy - Since the 18th century, many Italian communities in the Americas have observed the Discovery of the New World as a celebration of their heritage; Cristopher Columbus (whose original, Italian name is "Cristoforo Colombo") was an Italian explorer, citizen of the Republic of Genoa.
In Italy, Columbus Day has been officially celebrated since 2004. It is officially named Giornata nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo.
The "Lega Navale Italiana" has created a Regata di Colombo as a celebration of the Columbus achievement. Italians have celebrated their "Cristoforo Colombo" naming after him many civilian and military ships, like the ocean liner SS Cristoforo Colombo.
Spain - Since 1987, Spain has celebrated the anniversary of Columbus's arrival in the Americas as its Fiesta Nacional or "National Day". Previously Spain had celebrated the day as Día de la Hispanidad, emphasizing Spain's ties with the Hispanidad, the international Hispanic community. In 1981 a royal decree established the Día de la Hispanidad as a national holiday.However, in 1987 the name was changed to Fiesta Nacional, and October 12 became one of two national celebrations, along with Constitution Day on December 6. Spain's "national day" had moved around several times during the various regime changes of the 20th century; establishing it on the day of the international Columbus celebration was part of a compromise between conservatives, who wanted to emphasize the status of the monarchy and Spain's history, and Republicans, who wanted to commemorate Spain's burgeoning democracy with an official holiday. Since 2000, October 12 has also been Spain's Day of the Armed Forces, celebrated each year with a military parade in Madrid. Other than this, however, the holiday is not widely or enthusiastically celebrated in Spain; there are no other large-scale patriotic parades, marches, or other events, and the observation is generally overshadowed by the feast day of Our Lady of the Pillar (Fiestas del Pilar).
Opposition to Columbus celebrations - Opposition to Columbus Day dates back to at least the 19th century, when anti-immigrant nativists (see Know Nothings) sought to eliminate its celebration because of its association with immigrants from the Catholic countries of Ireland and Italy, and the American Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus. Some anti-Catholics, notably including the Ku Klux Klan and the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, opposed celebrations of Columbus or monuments about him because they thought that it increased Catholic influence in the United States, which was largely a Protestant country.
By far the more common opposition today, decrying both Columbus' and other Europeans' actions against the indigenous populations of the Americas, did not gain much traction until the latter half of the 20th century. This opposition was led by Native Americans and expanded upon by left-wing political parties, though it has become more mainstream. Surveys conducted in 2013 and 2015 found 26% to 38% of American adults not in favor of celebrating Columbus Day.
There are many interrelated strands of criticism. One refers primarily to the treatment of the indigenous populations during the European colonization of the Americas which followed Columbus's discovery. Some groups, such as the American Indian Movement, have argued that the ongoing actions and injustices against Native Americans are masked by Columbus myths and celebrations. These groups argue that the legacy of Columbus has been used to legitimize these actions. F. David Peat asserts that many cultural myths of North America exclude or diminish the culture and myths of Native Americans. These cultural myths include ideas expressed by Michael Berliner of the Ayn Rand Institute, claiming that Western civilization brought "reason, science, self-reliance, individualism, ambition, and productive achievement" to a people who were based in "primitivism, mysticism, and collectivism", and to a land that was "sparsely inhabited, unused, and underdeveloped". American anthropologist Jack Weatherford says that on Columbus Day, Americans celebrate the greatest waves of genocide of the American Indians known in history. American Indian Movement of Colorado leader and activist Ward Churchill takes this argument further, contending that the mythologizing and celebration of the European settlement of the Americas in Columbus Day make it easier for people today to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, or the actions of their governments regarding indigenous populations. He wrote in his book Bringing the Law Back Home:
Very high on the list of those expressions of non-indigenous sensibility [that] contribute to the perpetuation of genocidal policies against [American] Indians are the annual Columbus Day celebration, events in which it is baldly asserted that the process, events, and circumstances described above are, at best, either acceptable or unimportant. More often, the sentiments expressed by the participants are, quite frankly, that the fate of Native America embodied in Columbus and the Columbian legacy is a matter to be openly and enthusiastically applauded as an unrivaled "boon to all mankind". Undeniably, the situation of American Indians will not—in fact cannot—change for the better so long as such attitudes are deemed socially acceptable by the mainstream populace. Hence, such celebrations as Columbus Day must be stopped.
A second strain of criticism of Columbus Day focuses on the character of Columbus himself. In time for the 2004 observation of the day, the final volume of a compendium of Columbus-era documents was published by the University of California, Los Angeles's Medieval and Renaissance Center. Geoffrey Symcox, the general editor of the project, asserted:
While giving the brilliant mariner his due, the collection portrays Columbus as an unrelenting social climber and self-promoter who stopped at nothing—not even exploitation, slavery, or twisting Biblical scripture—to advance his ambitions… Many of the unflattering documents have been known for the last century or more, but nobody paid much attention to them until recently… The fact that Columbus brought slavery, enormous exploitation or devastating diseases to the Americas used to be seen as a minor detail—if it was recognized at all—in light of his role as the great bringer of white man's civilization to the benighted idolatrous American continent. But to historians today this information is very important. It changes our whole view of the enterprise.
Howard Zinn described some of the details of how Columbus personally ordered the enslavement and mutilation of the native Arawak people in a bid to repay his investors:
Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were "naked as the day they were born," they showed "no more embarrassment than animals." Columbus later wrote: "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."
But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men believed huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. American Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.
Most criticisms combine elements of both strains. Journalist and media critic Norman Solomon reflects, in Columbus Day: A Clash of Myth and History, that many people choose to hold on to the myths surrounding Columbus, whereas historians who deal with the evidence are frequently depicted as “politically correct” revisionists. He quotes from the logbook Columbus's initial description of the American Indians: "They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance.... They would make fine servants.... With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want". In 1495, during the Second Voyage, American Indians were transported to Spain as slaves, many dying en route. "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity", Columbus later wrote, "go on sending all the slaves that can be sold". Solomon states that the most important contemporary documentary evidence is the multi-volume History of the Indies by the Catholic priest Bartolomé de las Casas, who observed the region where Columbus was governor. In contrast to "the myth" Solomon quotes Las Casas, who describes Spaniards driven by "insatiable greed"—"killing, terrorizing, afflicting, and torturing the native peoples" with "the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty" and how systematic violence was aimed at preventing "[American] Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings." The Spaniards "thought nothing of knifing [American] Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades," wrote Las Casas. "My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write".
In the summer of 1990, 350 representatives from American Indian groups from all over the hemisphere, met in Quito, Ecuador, at the first Intercontinental Gathering of Indigenous People in the Americas, to mobilize against the 500th anniversary (quin-centennial) celebration of Columbus Day planned for 1992. The following summer, in Davis, California, more than a hundred Native Americans gathered for a follow-up meeting to the Quito conference. They declared October 12, 1992 to be "International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People". The largest ecumenical body in the United States, the National Council of Churches, called on Christians to refrain from celebrating the Columbus quincentennial, saying, "What represented newness of freedom, hope, and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others".Among the latest places in the United States to redefine how they would celebrate the holiday to the title "Indigenous Peoples' Day" by the autumn of 2016 include communities in Massachusetts, specifically Cambridge, Amherst and Northampton, with a group naming itself the "Indigenous Peoples' Day of Massachusetts" currently attempting to do the same for the state's capital city of Boston.
An American Hispanist, commenting on Spain’s glorification of 1492/1992, pointed out that in Spain in 1492, the big events were the conquest of Granada and secondarily the expulsion of all of Spain’s Jews (see Alhambra decree). In 1992, it would have been politically problematic for Spain to commemorate either of these, and only seven years (in 1968) before the end of the Franco regime in Spain, the Alhambra Decree had itself been repealed.
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