It’s the second Monday in October! Happy Columbus Day! Or, happy Indigenous People’s Day!
Of course, these two holidays exist simultaneously, in direct opposition to one another. From my vantage point, the public conversation about what Columbus Day represents becomes more present each year. This strikes me as a perfect opportunity to get young people thinking about viewing history through a critical lens.
Celebrations of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas exist in many countries. For example, in Argentina the holiday is called Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity). In the U.S. celebrations of Columbus and his voyage date back to colonial times, but Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937.
Apparently opposition to Columbus Day is recorded as going back at least to the 19th century. But this early opposition was rooted in anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiments. The far more resonant criticism of Columbus Day comes from indigenous groups, anthropologists, and others who argue that the holiday serves to celebrate the historical (and ongoing) ill treatment of indigenous peoples, which came about as a result of Columbus’ discovery.
It’s always challenging to fairly interpret historical events and figures. We know that national and cultural myths and legends often have a strong effect on how we view history today. As a nonfiction editor, I know how tricky it can be to craft balanced historical texts for young readers. I hope that the following Capstone titles will provide a jumping-off point as you discuss today’s holiday(s) with the students in your life.