The Sept. 27 editorial “Let Columbus Stand” brought to focus something that I should have noticed before now about the discussion of Christopher Columbus in American culture. I think the issue of how we perceive Columbus breaks down to how we are educated about him.
My parents’ version of this story is that of the heroic Italian explorer who was trying to forge a new path to India and accidentally stumbled across “the new world,” discovering the Americas and bringing peace and prosperity to all. “The Columbus Day Poem” with its Dr. Seuss-like rhyme structure is more or less the level of understanding gleaned from their education. This version was whitewashed and sanitized.
The version of the Columbus story I learned in school more recently is quite different from that. I grew up seeing Columbus as nothing but a colonizer — a person who forced customs, language and religion on innocent and unsuspecting people. Someone who decimated the Taino people, killing off as much as 90% of the population through war, slavery and disease. Someone who did massive amounts of harm and almost no good. My knowledge of that history absolutely overshadows everything else about him and is what forms my beliefs on seeing him represented in our public park.
If you never learned this side of the story, you’re not alone and it’s certainly not your fault. It was an impartial picture of reality used to simplify and cleanse the reality and messiness of history. The important part is how you recover from this. Maybe read about the Taino people and learn about the genocide committed against them.