Monday, October 09, 2006

Will I Lie to My Kids About Columbus? Part 1

Like scores of children across America today, my son will stay home from school in observation of a federal holiday that salutes an Italian-born genocidal Spanish explorer.

Yesterday morning over buttered toast and fried eggs, The Maestro of Mouth, my curious kindergartner, asked me who Columbus was, similar to last Monday when he asked me what Rosh Hashanah is and why he got a day off from school because of it as well.

Mouth’s Rosh Hashanah answer arrived fast and easy at, where in a matter of seconds we learned that the holiday commemorates the Jewish New Year. The answer was pretty cut and dry, and for the most part free of controversial historical baggage.

No such luck this Monday off from school, I’m afraid. This time Mouth’s answer won’t come so easily, express Encarta search or not.

No. Mouth’s answer today, Columbus Day, will arrive burdened with much parental trepidation and doubt. But also rich with a sense of parental responsibility to expose his young sponge mind to the concept of historical justice, specifically with a focus on reexamining our nation’s “discovery” by Christopher Columbus and the explorer’s “friendly, cooperative” relationship with its indigenous population.

For the past week I’ve grappled with the questions: How much of the truth about Columbus does my 5-year-old really need to know? Which segments of Columbus’ New World reign of terror are appropriate for his age, if any?

Who really discovered America? Was it the Norwegian viking Leif Erickson in the late tenth century, and how does one “discover” a country when it is already inhabited by native peoples?

Why does it matter who got here first? (Something I find myself saying to my sons every time they rub it in each other’s faces that they strapped themselves into their own car seat first …)

Why do we Americans feel compelled to annually observe the achievements (or mulit-fatal failures?) of a racist mass murderer in the first place? Why is the blood-stained truth about Columbus and his Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria voyages, continually hidden from our children, generation after protected generation? And what exactly do we gain from continuing to blind our youngest citizens from the startling, appalling truth?

Does it make me an un-American mother for wanting to share the truth about Columbus with my children? Some of you probably think so. Luckily, as Americans, you are “free” to think anything you want. And so am I.

Personally, I’m still on the fence; I’m not sure what I will say later this morning when my inquisitive kindergartner again brings up Columbus, and I’m positive he will. He’s a stickler for following up on his unquenched questions.

Obviously I don’t intend today to terrify any of my three children with the following facts about Columbus’ murderous New World “progress.” But I also won't promulgate the glorified Columbus the explorer extraordinaire status quo.

(You can check back for Part 2 soon to find out what I ended up telling Mouth, Moody Cheeks McGee and Pigtail Sprite about Columbus after all.)

In the meantime, I know for certain that my little ones are positively not ready to hear:

Source: (A People’s History of the United States, 1492 – Present, by Howard Zinn)

- That Columbus noted in his official travel log that the Arawak Indians he encountered in the Bahama Islands “would make fine servants...”

- That Columbus maniacally schemed that “.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all (Arawaks) and make them do whatever we want."

- That “In the year 1495, they (Columbus and his crew) went on a great slave raid, rounded up 1,500 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.”

- That “Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.”

- That, according to Las Casas, an eye witness to Columbus’ atrocities and the explorer’s record keeper, “the Spaniards ‘thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.’ Las Casas tells how ‘two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.’”

- That, according Las Casas, “the Spaniards ‘grew more conceited every day’ and after a while refused to walk any distance. They ‘rode the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry’ or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays.”

- That Columbus and his crew reportedly fed various parts of their indigenous captives to their guard dogs. (This last example is not attributed to Howard Zinn.)

I could go on citing specific historical records that reveal the truth about Columbus and his fleet of ruthless Spaniard accessories to his crimes, the truth that I was never exposed to until I reached Northeastern University for undergraduate studies in 1993.

Since you’ve gotten this far in this indulgently long soapbox post, you should know that I’m often a wet blanket who leeches all the fun out of holidays. Maybe it’s because, for me, knowing the awful truth is sometimes sickening. Too sickening to keep to myself. Too sickening to live with without stirring up change.

Knowing that we celebrate the wholesale genocide of indigenous people every Fall in this country is sickening. Knowing that we continue to tell our school children, the future generations of America, the utter lie that Columbus was a valiant explorer-hero worthy of historical acclaim is sickening. Knowing that we will shut down our nation’s libraries, banks, courts of justice and post offices in Columbus’ tarnished name is sickening.

If you want to overcome the lies you were told about Columbus and his so-called diplomatic “discovery” of America, please click on these:

Come back and see what I end up telling my kids about Columbus on today's federal holiday. I'll only know when the moment arrives.

Oh, yes. The demistifying links:

CNN News - Columbus Day holiday arrives on stormy historical waters

Oct. 12, 2006 Orange County, California Anti-Columbus Rally

Who Really Discovered America

A People’s History of the United States, 1492 – Present, by Howard Zinn

Finally, instead of celebrating a genocidal New World explorer, I propose that we use the federal holiday on the second Monday in October to instead honor the memory of a WOMAN (are there any federal holidays that honor influential females yet?) whose women’s and civil rights struggles had a lasting, positive social impact on our great nation.

I offer you these two brave female freedom fighters as alternatives to Christopher Columbus: Rosa Parks and Harriet RossTubman.

Instead of teaching our school children to revere mass murdering egomaniacs like Columbus, let us instead give them a day off from school to celebrate the lives of women who respected life, who did not seek to enslave life, and fought to protect life, in all its many colors.

Who do you think our country should honor every second Monday in October? I'd like to know.

What we used to sing in school about Christopher Columbus:
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.

He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.

A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.

Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.

Then the workers went to sleep;
And others watched the ocean deep.

Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.

October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!

"Indians! Indians!" Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.

But "India" the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.

The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.

Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he'd been told.

He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.

The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

What some kids are singing now:
In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. You may ask yourself,
what else did he do? Chris it must be nice to have the “Exchange”
in your name, I had nothing to lose and a lot to gain
I unified two worlds for one. Well what is unification and
is it unity when one is left with nothing, nothing?
“That’s not true, those Indians got a lot I gave them tobacco, alcohol and
guns from my own private stock.”
Chris, “what did you receive besides the tropical disease?”
“Watch it girl cause you’re way out of line.
I only took what was theirs and what was rightfully mine.
Tomatoes, potatoes, land and slaves.

Which song might you sing to your children this "holiday?"
(Perhaps something by John Lennon. Today is the late pacifist's birthday.)


At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I just don't understand why you don't want to tell your children about a great man who discovered (a land with people living on it, who already had their homes established, who cares if they weren't as grand as the white man thought they should be, and generations of history.) America?? Genocide?? Chris took over this land which was rightfully his, hello!!? He is a white man ya know??

Yeah, it's a joke....sickening really. And then we celebrate remember how the Indians taught us how to plant and know, right before we murdered the majority and placed the rest into "reservations."

Nice eh?

At 2:14 PM, Blogger jen said...

might be a bit too much for the baby...that said, go for it.

how about singing that country song about where if you don't like it i'll take it anyways and put a boot up your goes something like that.

At 2:57 PM, Blogger Yummy London Mummy said...

Thankfully we don't have to deal with this kind of thing in the UK, possibly because we don't really have patriotic holidays except for the Queen's birthday. And I'm not really sure if we get the day off for that, I think we just have to put up with loads of lousy programmes about her on the TV for the day, which frankly is torture enough.

What you should be questioning isn't the morals of having to celebrate the life of some dodgy old syphillis-ridden codger who obviously invested in some serious PR (which was so successful that many are still hoodwinked centuries later, a feat that our own Tony Blair has only managed for a mere 10 years) but why on earth do your kids get these uneccessary days off school? Surely a form of parental cruelty when US businesses are famous for so being stingy when it comes to holiday leave (I mean, 10 days as standard? Are you kidding?)

Otherwise, you could simply rebrand the day at home as a day to celebrate someone you do admire. Tell the kids that they may celebrate this crazy criminal at school, and for sure they should enjoy listening to swashbuckling tales of nonsense on a par with Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, but at home it is a different day used to celebrate someone far more important, someone who made a real difference to the world. Then you can stamp on any residual Christopher Columbus yearnings when they are old enough to not be shattered by the discovery that sometimes adults make things up to further their own filthy political ends, and that sometimes other adults are too dumb not to be fooled by it.

Good luck!

At 9:20 PM, Blogger ThePete said...

As is evidenced by the American people's slooooow realization that Bush is a criminal maniac and that the Iraq war was a bad idea from frame-one, we have a big problem facing our dark realities. The sad thing is, if we don't learn from history (which requires facing it first) we're doomed to repeat said history.

Some would say that it's happening again with slightly different circumstances in Iraq and Afghanistan, only instead of gold, the interest is oil. We, as a people, can't be allowed to look at our own bloody past because then we would see that those same interests and that same lack of interest in human life continues to exist to this day. It's like Cliff Robertson said as the CIA guy in "3 Days of the Condor" back in the 1970s--you don't think the American people will want their oil come winter? You don't think they'll tell the US government that they want their oil and don't care how they get it?

That was true thirty years ago and it's true now. There's much more to explore here, as I'm sure you can imagine.

My thought is to not tell your kids anything until they're older. Once they're in high school they are going to be more prepared to deal with the truth--but teaching them at too young an age that our society effectively lies to them about their past would probably make them very cynical. Too cynical for kids to be, me thinks...

Thanks for commenting at ThePete.Com and if you're still reading my comment here, sorry to go on so long. :) I wish you luck with your kids. Take care of them! (No one else will!)

At 5:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

get rid of columbus murderer day, I want my mail, to go to the bank. Why do I want to be happy for a murderers day..


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