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Intersections: Is Columbus Day worth celebrating?

October 08, 2012

Every child who has attended elementary school in the U.S. can without a doubt recall the famous “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” rhyme.

Though the rest of the poem is a distant memory, as adults, many of us have been exposed to the less celebratory side of Christopher Columbus and the horrific circumstances — slavery, exploitation, disease and, ultimately, genocide — credited to his name that ravaged indigenous people in America after he arrived.

For the last few decades, anti-Columbus Day activism has been steadily growing amid a day usually celebrated with mall sales, time off from school and extended bar hours.

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And in a truly virtual age, the dissent has never been more apparent than it is now, where social networks are there to provide an outlet to everyone looking to express an opinion, whether through video, photography, petitions, tweets or status updates.

Look across the networks in your Internet life and you might come across the phrase, “Let's celebrate this Columbus Day by walking into someone else's house and telling them that we live there now,” juxtaposed next to a comical illustration of Christopher Columbus.

Look on the websites of news outlets across the country, and you'll find dozens of editorials for or against Columbus Day.

But given its controversial nature, is Columbus Day still worth celebrating? I knew how strangers and acquaintances felt on Twitter, but for more thought-provoking responses, I was interested in hearing from those who introduced us to the man himself in the first place: teachers.

Scott Andrews, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and coordinator for the American Indian Studies Program at Cal State Northridge said that as a nation that celebrates freedom and opposes tyranny, it's odd to celebrate the expansion of the Spanish Empire into North and South America, which ultimately led to the death and enslavement of millions of human beings.

“But recognizing that irony allows us to honor the memory of the indigenous people of this world, which was 'new' to the Europeans, but an ancient home to its inhabitants,” he said. “And the day allows us to acknowledge the many beautiful indigenous people and cultures that are alive today — including about 200,000 American Indians in Los Angeles County.”

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