Monday, October 13, 2008

The Columbus Day Myth

Genova is the reputed birth home of Columbus ... and its most famous personage. There are statues and even the airport in Genova is named after Christopher Columbus.

Nobody gets a day off though in Italy that I know of -- because frankly, he left here when he was a child and did most of his growing up and work for his Spanish patrons.

People in American take the day off to celebrate his accomplishments (or what they are told are his accomplishments). Personally, I think they were looking to win over the votes of the Italian-Americans ... they could have picked several better examples - such as the Florentine Philip Mazzei who inspired Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, or the Florentine inventor Meucci who really invented the telephone (a feat that has finally been recognized), or so many others. Why did they pick Columbus?

Some years ago I was in the Bahamas on Columbus Day ... and I asked if they celebrated Columbus Day. The lawyer I was talking to laughed out loud for several minutes ... and said the only thing Columbus ever discovered was syphillis and then brought it to the new world. He said maybe the real reason people in America celebrated Columbus is for getting lost and only giving it to the people in the Carribbean. He might have a point -- as there is no record he ever reached continental US.

The following video clips reveal some disturbing facts about Columbus's legacy (especially his second trip) ... and even more so about the Bush legacy -- which continued some of the work Columbus started.

Even though Columbus didn't "discover America" (that's an interesting topic all by itself) perhaps what we are really celebrating is the idea -- that government backed businessmen could go visit a foreign country where people are living - plant your flag there and claim their resources, land and people for your own country. It is an idea that has been tried over and over again ... and still is in use today.

Anyway -- we love Italy, and the people of Genova ... but I think you might want to check out the enclosed link provided courtesy of Brasshcheck TV before you continue your celebrations.


  1. "Personally, I think they were looking to win over the votes of the Italian-Americans"

    You are exactly right. The American popularisation of St Patricks' Day also had cynical political purposes; it was never a big deal in Ireland.
    It was popularised by the "Irish"-Americans themselves - scare quotes around "Irish" because most "Irish"-Americans today know little or nothing about Ireland.

    In Philadelphia the German-American equivalent is the Baron Von Steuben parade. It's doubtful whether Von Steuben was a real "baron", but he was a man of considerable talents, so fair enough. Same goes, a fortiori, for the splendid Pulaski of Poland.

    But notice how the one and only American ethnicity which is never hyphenated are the English-Americans? Today we're a minority; only around ten percent of Americans have any English ancestry, and contra Hollywood and New York, the majority of English-Americans are working class; per capita you'll find more English blood in the benighted coal country of Appalachia than on Wall Street. Oh and mixed into the Black population too.

    So why can't America celebrate an "English-American" holiday, perhaps for John Cabot who landed in North America in 1497? As Barack Obama is of considerable English ancestry, he would make an appropriate keynote speaker.

  2. Also relevant to this is Chief Seattle's letter to the American President, circa 1850:

    "The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?..."

  3. It's hard to believe only one-tenth of Americans have English ancestry. Guess that makes me part of the minority, as my mother's ancestors came over on the Mayflower and the family played a dominant role in colonial America. With so many Americans bearing Anglo-Saxon names, I would expect the percentage would be higher.

  4. I watched the recommended videos at The controversial Ward Churchill appears in two of them. I believe the charge that over 40% of native American women were sterilized in the early 70's has been challenged and possibly discredited. Apparently about 40% of American women of all stripes elect sterilization as a method of birth control (tubes tied) in any case. Also, George H.W. Bush was not young in 1971. He was pushing 50.


Isabel Van Fechtmann

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