As every 12th of October, Spain and America celebrate Columbus´ arrival to the New World
October 12th celebrates Cristopher Columbus’ arrival to the Indies 524 years ago, a day which marked the beginning of a new era both in Europe and AmericaOctober 24th, 2016
Should the 12th of October be a day to celebrate? The event, which is regarded as a cultural encounter for some, is also considered as the start of Native Americans’ extermination, something that converts this holiday into a controversial issue.
Many Latin American countries have started to question if they should celebrate the date in which the process of European settlement started. A process which caused the death of an estimated 90 million indigenous people as well as the loss of their lands and traditions.
In Spain, the date has been regarded as a holiday since 1918 when, a minister of Alfonso XII decided to start celebrating this day under the name of “Día de la Raza” as an attempt for a common celebration for Americans and Spaniards. In 1958 the government of Francisco Franco turned it into the “Día de la Hispanidad” and then, in 1987 it became the “Día de la Fiesta Nacional” as the day to celebrate the encounter between European and Native American cultures. Spain celebrates it every year with a military parade in the capital city in the presence of the royal family.
However, if we look at the place where Columbus and his colleagues arrived in 1492 we will find different perceptions about this issue. In Cuba, for example, this date is not even observed as a holiday in the calendar as they consider it to represent the celebration of a colonial period completely rejected by the government and population of the island.
In Venezuela, the perception that the date does not represent any discovery but the fight of aboriginal peoples against the Spanish domination became widespread with Hugo Chavez’s arrival to power. In 2002, the president decided to change the day’s name for that of “Día de la Resistencia Indígena” (Indigenous Resistance Day), a name which has also been adopted by Nicaragua.
Also in Bolivia, where in 2011 Evo Morales named the date as “Día de la Descolonización”, there is a general rejection to celebrate the arrival of the people who devastated the continent, who exploited their lands and peoples and who created frontiers which did not exist before.
On the opposite side we find countries such as Mexico and Colombia which had maintained the initial name of “Día de la Raza”. Also in the United States, as every year, people celebrated Columbus Day on the second Monday of October. The celebration, this time has coincided with the protests of the Indian Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, where a protest against the construction of an oil pipeline has led to the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than 100 years. The protesters say the pipeline will despoil a number of sacred sites in the area, such as the bleached trees which are said to be the skeletons of Lakota Dakota spirits.
This is just an example that reminds us the current challenges that indigenous peoples are still facing all over the American continent. An example which demonstrates that the result of such a “discovery” is a continent with no place for their original people’s beliefs and traditions.