“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He had three ships and left from Spain.”
We can all name the three ships that left from Spain: the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. This information was ingrained in our minds as young children. American history classes teach its students that Columbus was seeking an alternative route to India, and instead discovered the Americas. Each year, on the second Monday of October, he is celebrated with students and employees given the day off.
For Indigenous people, this holiday is a reminder of what those classes failed to teach--that Columbus and his fellow explorers enslaved, murdered, and raped Indigenous people. In celebrating Columbus, the US forgets the trauma and pain that Indigenous people experienced. Colonization and assimilation are woven into the history of Indigenous people, and that trauma remains with us today. As a native person, I am constantly reminded of just how much we are up against. We are seen as historical figures, and not living beings. Our history is glanced over in history books. We are celebrated and “respected” as sports mascots but not as human beings.
For Italian Americans, this holiday is a celebration of their heritage. It is a day where they celebrate their own resilience and remember the struggles they faced as immigrants of this country. It was only decades ago that if you had an Italian last name, you were discriminated against. This is a history that is also not told. Instead, it is overshadowed by an individual who many Italian Americans feel does not adequately represent the great contributions that Italians have made to this country.
In the four years that I’ve been here, our program and our students have celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day. We’ve handed out ‘Discovery Cards,’ and we have sold ‘Native American Discovered Columbus’ t-shirts and stickers.
However, last year (2016), our students felt that maybe we just needed to listen to each other. Together, the Native American Future Stewards Program, Italian Program of Modern Languages Department, Lambda Sigma Upsilon Latino Fraternity, ALANA Collegiate Association, and the Native American Student Association, came together to hold a respectful discussion. The event also included traditional food that represented each community.
This year, on October 11, we continued the work we all started a year ago and held our annual “Indigenous Peoples Day” celebration. This celebration centers on the history of colonization, oppression, and the impact it has had on the Indigenous, Latino, and Italian communities.