There are several issues with celebrating Christopher Columbus for “discovering” the Americas this week in 1492. Most notably, there were already people living here, he wasn’t even the first European to set foot in the Americas, he thought he was somewhere in Asia and he did some truly awful things when he arrived. What is indisputable is that the world was drastically altered from that day on, with Europe and the rest of the world becoming fully aware of the “New World,” ushering in an era of colonization that shaped the Americas as we know them today. Throughout the region, there are a number of alternative holidays that commemorate the monumental event without praising Columbus himself.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Several U.S. cities and states recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which began in Berkeley, Calif., in 1992 to mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage. Oregon and Vermont have also officially recognized the festival. Other cities in the Bay Area also celebrate the holiday with traditional Native American ceremonies. In South Dakota, the holiday is recognized as Native American Day, while various tribal governments in Oklahoma celebrate Native American Day or a day named after their own tribes.
Dia de la Raza
In several Latin American countries, the Day of the Race commemorates the blending of Spanish and native peoples to create a new ethnicity and culture. The day has also come to be a time for reflection on the current state of native peoples in Mexico and Central and South America, and has inspired Latino activism. In Argentina, the holiday is now known as the “Day of Respect of Cultural Diversity,” while Colombia recognizes the “Day of the Race and Hispanicity” to reflect the dual cultures.
Dia de la Resistencia Indigena
Under the presidency of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela officially renamed Oct. 12 the “Day of Indigenous Resistance” to honor the struggle native peoples undertook against the Spanish conquistadors. The 2004 celebration in the capital city of Caracas even saw activists tear down the statue of Columbus that stood on the Columbus Walk after staging a public trial of the explorer. Nicaragua and the autonomous community of Navarre, Spain, also celebrate Dia de la Resistencia Indigena.
Dia del Encuentro de las Culturas
Costa Rica changed the name of the holiday in 1994 from Dia de la Raza to the “Day of the Encounter of the Cultures” to include not only Spanish and native people and cultures but also the African and Asian contributions that have shaped the country’s history and makeup. Columbus explored the coast of Costa Rica on his fourth voyage in 1502.
National Heroes’ Day
Columbus first landed in the Bahamas (which island is in dispute) when he came to the Americas. While the island nation used to celebrate Discovery Day, it now uses the holiday to recognize citizens from a cross-section of society who are honored in a speech by the prime minister. As they do on just about every holiday since they have the pleasure of living in the Bahamas, locals spend the day at family gatherings and beach picnics. Not a bad way to celebrate.