Columbus Day


Charlie Brown’s sister Sally thought Columbus Day was a person’s name. “’I can give you three ships, Mr. Day,’ said the Queen.” Et cetera.



I have always felt tenderly toward Mr. Day.



For one thing, Chris (aka Cristoforo Colombo) was a paesano from Genoa. My maternal grandfather was (probably) from somewhere in northern Italy, so Mr. Day and I are probably seventeenth cousins, or something.



Also, I have fond memories of my two first-grade teachers of sainted memory, Miss Plowman and Miss Marvin, giving us fat first-grader crayons to color pictures of the Nina and the Pinta and the Santa Maria, which were displayed (very judgment-free!) on the wall.



And there was really no need for judgment, because they were all beautiful.



Since then, however, the world has become stormy and sad.



My employer, Brown University, has renamed Columbus Day the “Fall Weekend.” Mr. Day, you see, was the harbinger of all bad things: disease, and slavery, and dispossession. They think it best not to mention him.



Indeed all those things followed on his “discovery.” I cannot deny it.



And yet: here we all are, in the New World that Mr. Day scouted out, with his three ships.



I am torn. I understand the revisionists’ point: much of what happened over the next few hundred years was a sin and a shame, and the native inhabitants (I am very fond of the Canadian term “First Nations”) were ravaged and decimated – more than decimated – by the European immigration.



And yet: here I sit, a descendant of those immigrants and their relatives.



Frankly, speaking as a radical socialist / anarchist, I’d gladly give the First Nations back their land. I would, like William Blackstone and Roger Williams (the kooky founders of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations), be glad to live side by side with them, on their terms, with the explicit understanding that it was their land long before my folks arrived.



Mr. Day was a venal businessman, and did in fact send back some poor West Indies tribesmen to Spain for display. He bragged about being a warrior “who never once put down the sword.”



But he did not (I think) intend genocide. 



And he reached out to the New World.



And then a bunch of stuff happened. And now: here we all are.



We are all very sorry for what our very stupid ancestors did.



Let’s not let it get us down. We are all at least as stupid as they were.



Let us celebrate Columbus Day, and resolve to do better.



About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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