Día de la Raza

Since 1928, Mexico has officially noted October 12, as commemorating the first encounters of Europeans and Native Americans, to coincide with the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Caribbean Islands, which happened on October 12, 1492.

Other Names

Many countries in the New World and elsewhere have unofficially noted the date since the late 1700s. However, it was not noted at all in the Americas until Italian-Americans (Columbus was Italian) observed Columbus Day, the first occasion being in New York City on October 12, 1866. The day is referred to under different names:

Columbus Day and Discoverers’ Day – USA (1866)

Native American Day or Indigenous People’s Day – USA Indian Tribes

National Heroes Day – Bahamas (2001)

Día de la Raza (“Day of the Race”) – much of Latin America

Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance) – Venezuela (2004)

Día de las Américas (Day of the Americas) in Belize and Uruguay

El dia de Cristobal Colon. – Columbia (1921)

Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity) in Argentina (1917)

Día de la Hispanidad (“Hispanicity Day”) in Spain (1957)

Giornata Nazionale di Cristopher Columbus or Festa Nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo – Italy

The Original Conception

Originally conceived of as a commemorating the first encounters of Europeans and Native Americans and 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 of the resistance against the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.

In Mexico, since 1928, we have officially noted Día de la Raza (Day of the Race, or Day of the People). However, rather than a celebration of discovery, the day was originally referred to the Hispanic influence in the Americas. 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 of the resistance against the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. In the U.S.A. Día de la Raza has served as a time of mobilization for pan-ethnic Latino activists, particularly in the 1960s. Since then, La Raza has served as a periodic rallying cry for Hispanic activists. The first Hispanic March on Washington (U.S.A.) occurred on Columbus Day in 1996. The name has remained in the largest Hispanic social justice organization, by the National Council of La Raza.

During the four hundredth anniversary in 1892, in the U.S.A., teachers, preachers, poets and politicians erroneously used Columbus Day rituals to teach ideals of patriotism. These patriotic rituals were framed around themes such as citizenship boundaries, the importance of loyalty to the nation, and celebrating social progress. Columbus was from Italy, but gave his allegiance to Spain. As we shall see in the following paragraphs, Columbus did little to bring about social progress to the New World.

However, most do not celebrate the day as a joyous one, but as a day of resistance, of sorrow and in respectful memory of the millions who were killed by the Europeans or died from the infectious diseases brought upon the Americas. Today, most know that Columbus did not discover the Americas, he invaded them. Should we continue to pay homage to Christopher Columbus in light of the many atrocities that he instigated on those who had greeted him with kindness and gifts, a man who was responsible for the mass decimation of millions of individuals, all in the name of greed by a foreign government?

Who Was Columbus?

Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus, Ital. Cristoforo Colombo was born between 30 and 31 October 1450 in Genoa, Italy, the son of a weaver and died 20 May 1506 in Valladolid, He was an Italian explorer, navigator, colonizer and citizen of the Republic of Genoa. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. Those voyages, and his efforts to establish permanent settlements on the island of Hispaniola, initiated the Spanish colonization of the New World. Columbus had two brothers, Barthlomew and Diego.

Columbus spent some of his early years at his father’s trade of weaving and later became a sailor on the Columbus first went to sea as a teenager, participating in several trading voyages in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. One such voyage, to the island of Khios, in modern day Greece, brought him the closest he would come to Asia.

His first voyage into the Atlantic Ocean in 1476 nearly cost him his life as the commercial fleet he was sailing with was attacked by French privateers off the coast of Portugal. His ship was burned and Columbus had to swim to the Portuguese shore and make his way to Lisbon, Portugal, where his where his younger brother, Bartholomew, an expert chart maker, lived. Columbus, too, became a chart maker for a brief time in that great maritime center during the golden era of Portuguese exploration. Engaged as a sugar buyer in the Portuguese islands off Africa (the Azores, Cape Verde, and Madeira) by a Genoese mercantile firm, he met pilots and navigators who believed in the existence of islands farther west. It was at this time that he made his last visit to his native city, but he always remained a Genoese, never becoming a naturalized citizen of any other country.

Returning to Lisbon, he married the well-born Dona Filipa Perestrello e Moniz. The couple had one son, Diego in about 1480. Columbus’ wife died soon after and Columbus moved to Spain. He had a second son Fernando who was born out of wedlock in 1488 with Beatriz Enriquez de Arana.

By the time he was 31 or 32, Columbus had become a master mariner in the Portuguese merchant service. Columbus participated in several other expeditions to Africa gaining knowledge of the Atlantic currents flowing east and west from the Canary Islands. Muslim domination of the trade routes through the Middle East makes travel to India and China difficult. It is thought by some that he was greatly influenced by his brother, Bartholomew, who may have accompanied Bartholomew Diaz on his voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, and by Martín Alonso Pinzón, the pilot who commanded the Pinta on the first voyage. Believing a route sailing west across the Atlantic would be quicker and safer, Columbus devised a plan to sail west to get reach the East. His uniqueness lay rather in the persistence of his dream and his determination to realize this “Enterprise of the Indies,” as he called his plan.

He estimated the earth to be a sphere approximately 63% its actual size and the distance between the Canary Islands and Japan to be about 2,300 miles. Many contemporary nautical experts disagreed, adhering to the second century BC estimate of the earth’s circumference at 25,000 miles. This made the distance between the Canary Islands and Japan about 12,200 statute miles. While experts disagreed with Columbus on matters of distance, they concurred that a westward voyage from Europe would be an uninterrupted water route.

Seeking support for it, he was repeatedly rejected by the Portuguese king, John II of Portugal, for a three-ship voyage of discovery, Columbus took his plan first to Genoa and then to Venice but was rejected there too. He then went to the Spanish monarchy of Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon, in 1486. Their nautical experts too were skeptical and initially, Columbus was rejected. The idea however, must have intrigued the monarchs, for they kept Columbus on a retainer. But their focus was on a war with the Muslims and Columbus would have to wait. Columbus continued to lobby the royal court and soon after the Spanish army captured the last Muslim stronghold in Granada in January of 1492, the monarchs agreed to his expedition, with the help of Luis de Santangelo, who advanced the sum of 17,000 ducats (about 5,000 pounds-today equal to 50,000 pounds) to finance the voyage, which began on August 3, 1492.

It is important to note that Columbus was accompanied by five ‘maranos’ (Jews who had foresworn their religion and supposedly became Catholics), Luis de Torres, interpreter, Marco, the surgeon, Bemal, the physician, Alonzo de la Calle and Gabriel Sanchez.

Historical Perspective

Columbus was not the first European mariner to sail to the New World—the Vikings set up colonies (c.1000) in Greenland and Newfoundland—but his voyages mark the beginning of continuous European efforts to explore the Americas. Although historians for centuries disputed his skill as a navigator, it has been proved that with only dead reckoning Columbus was unsurpassed in charting and finding his way about unknown seas.

During the 1980s and 90s the long-standing image of Columbus as a hero was tarnished by criticism from Native Americans and revisionist historians. With the 500th anniversary of his first voyage in 1992, interpretations of his motives and impact varied. Although he was always judged to be vain, ambitious, desirous of wealth, and ruthless, traditional historians viewed his voyages as opening the New World to Western civilization and Christianity. For revisionist historians, however, his voyages symbolize the more brutal aspects of European colonization and represent the beginning of the destruction of Native American peoples and culture. All interpretations, however, agree that his voyages, which permanently linked the Old and New Worlds, were a turning point in history.

The Facts

Christopher Columbus did not actually discover North America during his voyages from 1492 to 1502. That discovery would go to the Chinese.

During four separate trips that started with the one in 1492, Columbus landed on various Caribbean islands that are now the Bahamas as well as the island later called Hispaniola. He also explored the Central and South American coasts.

The first humans to discover and settle in America were from Asia between 42,000 and 17,000 years ago. They crossed the Bering Strait and migrated through current Oregon to as far south as Peru. Yes, the original people of the Americas were the descendents of the Chinese and even today, the resemblance in those without Spanish mixed blood is obvious.

Columbus was likely not the first European to cross the Atlantic Ocean. That distinction is given to the Norse Viking Leif Eriksson, who landed in present-day Newfoundland around 1000 A.D., 500 years before Columbus was born. However the colonization never became permanent and was later abandoned. Some historians even claim that Ireland’s Saint Brendan or other Celtic people may have crossed the Atlantic before Eriksson. The United States (whose real record of history is suspect) commemorates Columbus, even though he never set foot on the North American mainland, Leif Eriksson Day on October 9 receives little fanfare.

Contrary to popular belief, Columbus didn’t set out to prove the earth was round. There was no need for Columbus to debunk the flat-earthers—the ancient Greeks had already done so. As early as the sixth century B.C., the Greek mathematician Pythagoras surmised the world was round, and two centuries later Aristotle backed him up with astronomical observations. By 1492 most educated people knew the planet was not of a flat shape.

Three countries refused to back Columbus’ voyage. For nearly 10 years, Columbus lobbied European monarchies to bankroll his quest to discover a western sea route to Asia. In Portugal, England and France, the response was the same – a resounding no. The experts told Columbus his calculations were wrong and that the voyage would take much longer than he thought. Royal advisers in Spain raised similar concerns to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

The First Voyage

On Aug. 3, 1492, Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain, with three small ships, which were promptly renamed by the salty sailors who accompanied Columbus. In 15th-century Spain, ships were traditionally named after saints. Thus, Nina and Pinta were not the actual names of two of Columbus’ three ships.  The sailors bestowed less-than-sacred nicknames upon their vessels. The original name for the Pinta under Captain Martín Pinzón, has been lost to history when the sailors named the ship the Pinta, (the Painted One or The Prostitute) as an alteration of name of Captain Pinzón. The Santa Clara, under Captain Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, meanwhile, was nicknamed the Nina (The Little Girl) in honor of its owner, Juan Nino. Although the Santa Maria, commanded by Columbus, is called by its official name, its nickname given by the mariners was La Gallega, after the province of Galicia in which it was built. Columbus nicknamed the Santa Maria the La Capitana (The Flagship) as this was his official lead ship of which he was the Captain.

Turns out the naysayers of the voyage were correct. Columbus dramatically underestimated the earth’s circumference and the size of the oceans and did not find a new route to Asia. Luckily for him, he ran into the uncharted Americas. The journey took much longer than thought and a number of sailors died in route.

Columbus, as he first arrives, is received by the inhabitants and honored with the bestowing of many gifts.
Columbus, as he first arrives, is received by the inhabitants and honored with the bestowing of many gifts.

He sailed due west from Sept. 6 until Oct. 7, when he changed his course to the southwest. On Oct. 10 a small mutiny was quelled, and on Oct. 12 he landed on the small Watling Island in what is now the Bahamas. There he encountered a timid but friendly group of natives who were open to trade with the sailors exchanging glass beads, cotton balls, parrots and spears. Columbus also noticed the gold the natives wore for adornment.

He took possession for Spain and, with impressed natives aboard, discovered other nearby islands. On Oct. 27 he sighted what is now Cuba and on Dec. 5 reached what he would call Hispaniola, and today is known as the Dominican Republic.

It was here on Hispaniola, that Gabriel Sanchez, abetted by the other four Jews, suggested that Columbus capture 500 of the Indians and sell them as slaves in Seville, Spain, to help pay for the journey. In the end, Columbus did not receive any of the money from the sale of the slaves, but he became the victim of a conspiracy fostered by Sanchez and Bemal, the ship’s doctor. Columbus finally suffered injustice and imprisonment as his reward. This, ironically, was the beginning of slavery in the Americas.

The Santa Maria wrecked on Columbus’ historic voyage. On Christmas Eve of 1492, a cabin boy ran Columbus’s flagship into a coral reef on the northern coast of Hispaniola, near present-day Cap Haitien, Haiti. The crew spent a very un-merry Christmas salvaging the Santa Maria’s cargo. With the help of some islanders, Columbus’ men salvaged what they wood they could from the ship and built the settlement Villa de la Navidad (“Christmas Town”) with lumber from the ship. Thirty-nine men stayed behind to occupy the settlement. Convinced his exploration had reached Asia, he set sail for home with the two remaining ships.

Returning to Spain in 1493, Columbus gave a glowing, and wildly exaggerated report and was warmly received by the royal court. He neglected to mention the slaves he had brought back, as he was aware that Queen Isabella found slavery offensive. His reception was all he could wish; according to his contract with the Spanish sovereigns he was made “admiral of the ocean sea” and governor-general of all new lands he had discovered or should discover.

Although best known for his historic 1492 expedition, Columbus returned three more times in the following decade.

The Second Voyage

That same year he took to the seas on his second expedition and explored more islands in the Caribbean Ocean. Fitted out with a large fleet of 17 ships, with 1,500 colonists aboard, Columbus sailed from Cádiz in Oct., 1493. His landfall this time was made in the Lesser Antilles, and his new discoveries included the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico.

Columbus punishes rebellious Spaniards.
Columbus punishes rebellious Spaniards.

When Columbus returned to the settlement at Hispaniola, he found the first colony destroyed by the indigenous natives and none of the 40 crew member that were previously left behind were found and were presumably killed by the natives. Undeterred, Columbus established a forced labor policy over the native population to rebuild the settlement and explore for gold, believing it would prove to be profitable. His efforts produced small amounts of gold and great hatred among the native population. He then sailed off in the summer of 1494 to explore the southern coast of Cuba.

After discovering Jamaica he returned to Hispaniola and found the colonists, interested only in finding gold, completely disorderly; his attempts to enforce strict discipline led some to seize vessels and return to Spain to complain of his administration.

Columbus was desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested in his voyages, and to fulfill his misguided promise to fill his ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months.

Columbus' soldiers chop the hands off of Indians who failed to meet the gold quota.
Columbus’ soldiers chop the hands off of Indians who failed to meet the gold quota.

The gold was hard to come by and those that were able find a bit of gold, were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Those that were unable to find gold summarily had their hands cut off  and bled to death. In the end, with little gold to repay his debt to the investors, he rounded up as many Indians as possible and filled the ships with what would end up in slavery once back in Spain and thus he could line his pockets with money.

Columbus left his brothers Bartholomew and Diego to govern the settlement on Hispaniola and sailed briefly around the larger Caribbean islands further convincing himself he had discovered the outer islands of China. Columbus returned to Spain in 1496.

As he returned to Spain, many of the slaves died in captivity and with little gold to show for his travels, he returned in shame. However, he promised that if he were to be able to return a third time, he would be more successful in bringing more slaves and even more gold.

The greedy Spaniards, who were only interested in the gold and the possession of more slaves allowed Columbus to return a third time.

The Third Voyage

On his third expedition, in 1498, Columbus was forced to transport Spanish convicts as colonists.

Because of the bad reports on conditions in Hispaniola and because the novelty of the New World was wearing off. He sailed still farther south and made his landfall on Trinidad. He sailed across the mouth of the Orinoco River (in present Venezuela) and realized that he saw a continent, but without further exploration he hurried back to Hispaniola to administer his colony.

Columbus’s governance of Hispaniola could be brutal and tyrannical. Native islanders who didn’t collect enough gold could have their hands cut off, and rebel Spanish colonists were executed at the gallows. Colonists complained to the monarchy about mismanagement, and a royal commissioner dispatched to Hispaniola arrested Columbus in August 1500 and brought him back to Spain in chains. Although Columbus was stripped of his governorship, King Ferdinand not only granted the explorer his freedom but subsidized a fourth voyage.

Columbus is taken prisoner with his brother Bartholomeo and sent to Spain.
Columbus and his brother Bartholomeo are taken prisoner and sent to Spain.

In 1500 an independent governor arrived, sent by Isabella and Ferdinand as the result of reports on the wretched conditions in the colony, Columbus is stripped of his authority and taken prisoner along with and his brothers Barholomeo and Diego to be sent back to Spain in chains to face the royal court. Columbus and his brother were eventually released after greatly embellishing their story about how the atrocities were committed against his will by the mutinous crew members, but his favor was on the wane. He was however, stripped of his titles of Governor of the West Indies and much of the riches made during his voyages. Other navigators, including Amerigo Vespucci, had been in the New World and established much of the coast line of NE South America without problems.

The Fourth Voyage

It was 1502 before Columbus finally gathered together four ships for a fourth expedition, by which he hoped to reestablish his reputation. If he could sail past the islands and far enough west, he hoped he might still find lands answering to the description of Asia or Japan. He struck the coast of Honduras in Central America and coasted southward along an inhospitable shore, suffering terrible hardships, until he reached the Gulf of Darién.

A terrible and incredible storm.
A terrible and incredible storm.

In February 1504, while Attempting to return to Hispaniola, he was marooned on Jamaica. The desperate Columbus was then abandoned by half his crew and denied food by the islanders. The heavens that he relied on for navigation, however, would guide him safely once again. Knowing from his almanac that a lunar eclipse was coming on February 29, 1504, Columbus lied to the islanders when he warned them that his god was upset with their refusal of food and that the moon would “rise inflamed with wrath” as an expression of divine displeasure. On the appointed night, the eclipse darkened the moon and turned it red, and the terrified islanders offered provisions and beseeched Columbus to ask his god for mercy.

After his rescue, he was forced to abandon his hopes and return to Spain. Although his voyages were of great importance, Columbus died in relative neglect, having had to petition King Ferdinand in an attempt to secure his promised titles and wealth.

Voyages After Death

Even in death, Columbus continued to cross the Atlantic. Following his death in 1506, Columbus was buried in Valladolid, Spain, and then moved to Seville. At the request of his daughter-in-law, the bodies of Columbus and his son Diego were shipped across the Atlantic to Hispaniola and interred in a Santo Domingo cathedral.

When the French captured the island in 1795, the Spanish dug up remains thought to be those of the explorer and moved them to Cuba before returning them to Seville after the Spanish-American War in 1898. However, a box with human remains and the explorer’s name was discovered inside the Santo Domingo cathedral in 1877. Did the Spaniards exhume the wrong body? DNA testing in 2006 found evidence that at least some of the remains in Seville are those of Columbus.

The Dominican Republic has refused to let the other remains be tested. It could be possible that, aptly, pieces of Columbus are both in the New World and the Old World.

Family Wage Legal Battle

Heirs of Columbus and the Spanish monarchy were in litigation until 1790. After the death of Columbus, his heirs waged a lengthy legal battle with the Spanish crown, claiming that the monarchy short-changed them on money and profits due the explorer. Most of the Columbian lawsuits were settled by 1536, but the legal proceedings nearly dragged on until the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ famous voyage.

Mixed Legacy

In the two remaining years of his life, Columbus struggled to recover his lost titles and in May of 1505 did regain some of his riches, but his titles were never returned. He died May 20, 1506 still believing he had discovered a shorter route to Asia.

Columbus’ legacy is a mixed one. He has been credited for opening up the Americas to European colonization as well as blamed for the destruction of the native peoples of the islands he explored. On the one hand, he failed to find that what he set out for – a new route to Asia and the riches it promised. However, in what is known as the Columbian Exchange, his expeditions set in motion the wide-spread transfer of people, plants, animals, diseases, and cultures that greatly affected nearly every society on the planet.

The importation of horses from Europe allowed the inhabitants to shift from a nomadic to a hunting lifestyle. Foods from the Americas such as potatoes, tomatoes and corn became staples of Europeans and helped increase their populations. Wheat from Europe and the Old World fast became a main food source for people in the Americas. Coffee from Africa and sugar cane from Asia became major cash crops for Latin American countries.

The Exchange also brought new diseases to both hemispheres, though the effects were greatest in the Americas. Small pox from the Old World decimated millions of the Native American population to mere fractions of their original numbers. This more than any other factor made for European domination of the Americas. The overwhelming benefits of the Exchange went to the Europeans initially and eventually to the rest of the world. The Americas were forever altered and the once vibrant and rich cultures of the Native American civilizations were not only changed, but lost, denying the world any complete understanding of their existence.

Opposition to Columbus

Opposition to Columbus dates to as far as his return to Spain after his first voyage. There was an outcry that his journey was being used to expand Catholic influence upon the indigenous groups of the New World. As word reached Spain about the many atrocities that Columbus provoked on the indigenous people of the new world, there were many who called him a monster and demanded his punishment for his crimes.

The consensus of most people is that Columbus should not be revered as he was primarily responsible for ensuing and ongoing acts of genocide against Americans Indians and the indigenous population collapse of America. The facts have been masked by positive Columbus myths and celebrations. These critics argue that a particular misunderstanding of the legacy of Columbus has been used to legitimize Columbus’ actions and the actions of others since, and that the misuse of history that must be exposed.

The anthropologist Jack Weatherford says that on Columbus Day, people celebrate the greatest waves of genocide of the American Indians known in history. The English research scientist and author, F. David Peat asserts that many cultural myths of North America exclude or diminish the culture and myths of Native Americans.

In his book, Bringing the Law Back Home, American Indian leader and activist Ward Churchhill goes 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 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 the criticism of Columbus Day focuses on the character of Columbus himself. In time for the observation of Columbus Day in 2004, 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 imagined 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 critiques 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.”

Solomon 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.”

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:

“The Spaniards are 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 Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings. The Spaniards thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades. My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write.”

Recent Discoveries

In May 2014, Christopher Columbus made headlines as news broke that a team of archaeologists may have found the remains of the Santa Maria off the north coast of Haiti. Barry Clifford, the leader of this expedition, stated that “all geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests this wreck is Columbus’ famous flagship the Santa Maria.” Clifford intends to conduct a thorough excavation of the wreck to confirm his initial findings.


S. E. Morison (1942)

E. D. S. Bradford (1973)

H. Koning (1982)

F. Fernández-Armesto (1991)

J. M. Cohen, comp., The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1969)

J. Axtell, Beyond 1492 (1992)

W. D. and C. R. Philips, The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (1992)

M. Dugard, The Last Voyage of Columbus (2005)

L. Bergren, The Four Voyages (2011); D. Hunter, The Race to the New World (2011)


“Governo Italiano – Dipartimento per il Cerimoniale dello Stato”. Governo.it. 2012-11-23. Retrieved 2015-01-30.

Kubal, Timothy. 2008. Cultural Movements and Collective Memory: Christopher Columbus and the Rewriting of the National Origin Myth. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Connell, William J. (2010). “What Columbus Day Really Means”. The American Scholar.

Appelbaum, Yoni (October 8, 2012). “How Columbus Day Fell Victim to Its Own Success”. The Atlantic. Retrieved April 23, 2013.

Sale, Kirkpatrick, “The Conquest of Paradise”, p359, ISBN 0-333-57479-6

Dougherty, Conor; Reddy, Sudeep (October 10, 2009). “Is Columbus Day Sailing Off the Calendar?”. The Wall Street Journal.

“Columbus Citizens Foundation”. Columbuscitizensfd.org. Retrieved October 12, 2011.

Molina A. de Cienfuegos, Ignacio; Martínez Bárcena, Jorge; Fuller, Linda K. (Ed.) (2004). “Spain: National Days throughout the History and the Geography of Spain”. National Days/National Ways: Historical, Political, and Religious Celebrations around the World: 253. ISBN 978-0-275-97270-7. Retrieved September 30, 2009.

Kubap, Timothy (2008). Cultural movements and collective memory: Christopher Columbus and the rewriting of the national origin myth. Macmillan. pp. 33–36. ISBN 978-1-4039-7577-5.

“Indigenous People’s Opposition to Celebration and Glorification of Colonial Pirate Christopher Columbus”. Retrieved October 7, 2012.

“History.com: Columbus Day Alternatives”. Retrieved October 7, 2012.

Zinn, Howard (1980). “A People’s History of the United States”.

Solomon, Norman (October 1995). “Columbus Day: A Clash of Myth and History”. Media Beat. Archived from the original on October 25, 2009.

Grand Voyages - America, Part Four

The engravings shown in this article are from a series titled, “Grand Voyages – America, Part Four” (1594) by engraver Theodorde Bry (1528-1598) – The book was written by Jerome Benzoni of Milan Italy, who was one of the original colonists and lived there for fourteen years, observing the atrocities of Columbus.