Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Columbus Day
Mon. Oct. 13
Many countries in the New World and elsewhere celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas, which occurred on October 12, 1492 in the Julian calendar and October 21, 1492 in the modern Gregorian calendar, as an official holiday. The day is celebrated as Columbus Day in the United States, as Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) in many countries in Latin America, as Día de las Culturas (Day of the Cultures) in Costa Rica, as Discovery Day in The Bahamas and Colombia, as Día de la Hispanidad (Hispanic Day) and National Day in Spain, and as Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance) in Venezuela.

Columbus' arrival in the Americas
Columbus celebrations commemorate the Genoese explorer's first expedition across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. Columbus, on commission by the Spanish monarchy, was hoping to find a new naval route to India and the other nations of the East, but instead found the American continent which was virtually unknown to Europeans at the time. Columbus's sailor Rodrigo de Triana was the first on the voyage to spot land in the New World; he found the island the natives called Guanahani at approximately 2:00 AM on October 12, 1492. The exact location of this island is unknown, though it was somewhere in the Bahamas. Columbus's expedition launched the first large-scale European colonization of the Americas.

United States observance
The first Columbus Day celebration was held in 1792, when New York City celebrated the 300th anniversary of his landing in the New World. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison called upon the people of the United States to celebrate Columbus Day on the 400th anniversary of the event.

Some Italian-Americans observe Columbus Day as a celebration of their heritage, the first occasion being in New York City on October 12, 1866. Columbus Day was popularized as a holiday in the United States by a lawyer, a son of Genoese immigrants who came to California. During the 1850s, Genoese immigrants settled and built ranches along the Sierra Nevada foothills. As the gold ran out, these skilled "Cal-Italians", from the Apennines, were able to prosper as self-sufficient farmers in the Mediterranean climate of Northern California. San Francisco has the second oldest Columbus Day celebration, with Italians having commemorated it there since 1869.

This lawyer then moved to Colorado, which had a population of Genoese miners, and where, in 1907, the first state-wide celebration was held. In 1934, at the behest of the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic fraternal service organization named for the voyager), Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set aside Columbus Day, October 12, as a Federal holiday (36 USC 107, ch. 184, 48 Stat. 657).

Since 1971, the holiday has been commemorated in the U.S. on the second Monday in October, the same day as Thanksgiving in neighboring Canada. It is generally observed today by banks, the bond market, the US Postal Service and other federal agencies, most state government offices, and many school districts; however, most businesses and stock exchanges remain open.

States and city observations

The city of Berkeley celebrates Indigenous People's Day instead of Columbus Day every year with a pow wow and Indian market.

The Columbus Day parade in Denver has been protested by American Indian groups and their supporters for nearly two decades. Denver has the longest running parade in the United States.

Hawaii does not officially honor Columbus day and instead celebrates Discoverer's Day on the same day, i.e., on the second Monday of each October. While many in Hawaii still celebrate the life of Columbus on Columbus Day, the alternative holiday also honors James Cook, the British navigator that became the first person to record the coordinates of the Hawaiian Islands and share with the world the existence of the ancient Hawaiian people and society. Some people interpret the holiday as a celebration of all discoveries relative to the ancient and modern societies of Hawaii. Neither Columbus Day nor Discoverer's Day is regarded as a holiday by State government; state, city and county government offices and schools are open for business on Columbus Day, while Federal government offices are closed.

Many Native Hawaiians decry the celebration of both Columbus and Cook, known to have committed acts of violent subjugation of native people. Discoverer's Day is a day of protest for some advocacy groups. A popular protest site is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace and the Chancery building of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu. Such advocacy groups have been commemorating the Discoverer's Day holiday as their own alternative, Indigenous Peoples Day. The week is called Indigenous Peoples Week.

The city of Boston, which has a large Italian population, marks the occasion on the Sunday before Columbus Day with a parade through the city that alternates each year between East Boston and the North End.

New York
In New York State, Columbus Day is a holiday, as government offices and public schools are closed.

Columbus Day is not a legal holiday in Nevada, but it is a day of observance. Schools and state, city and county government offices are open for business on Columbus Day.

South Dakota
In the state of South Dakota, the day is officially a state holiday known as "Native American Day", not Columbus Day.

Día de la Raza
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The date of Columbus' arrival in the Americas is celebrated in many countries in Latin America, although not in Brazil, (and in some Latino communities in the United States) as the Día de la Raza ("day of the race"), commemorating the first encounters of Europe and Native Americans. The day was first celebrated in Argentina in 1917, Venezuela in 1921, Chile in 1923, and Mexico in 1928. The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1957, when it was changed to the Día de la Hispanidad ("Hispanic Day"), and in Venezuela until 2002, when it was changed to the Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance).

Venezuelan observance
Between 1921 and 2002, Venezuela had celebrated Día de la Raza along with many other Latin American nations. The holiday was officially established in 1921 under President Juan Vicente Gómez. In 2002, under president Hugo Chávez, the name was changed to Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance) to commemorate the Indigenous people's resistance to European settlement. On the 2004 Day of Indigenous Resistance, a activists toppled a statue of Columbus in Caracas. The pro-Chávez, left-wing website Aporrea wrote: "Just like the statue of Saddam in Baghdad, that of Columbus the tyrant also fell this
October 12, 2004 in Caracas."The famous toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue had occurred the previous year.

Opposition to Columbus Day
In A People's History of the United States, American historian Howard Zinn discusses the cruelty Columbus inflicted upon Native Americans, which Zinn says was comparable to the genocidal acts of World War II. Zinn maintains Columbus was a religious fanatic with an obsession of eliminating non-Christians, by means of murder, conversion, or at the very least, enslavement. He claims that Columbus was in search of personal wealth and fame, and was willing to step over others or even kill them to achieve it, and that Columbus may have used more force than he admitted to his superiors. However, some assume that Columbus' subordinates were more responsible for the vast majority of the carnage carried out. Columbus himself claimed that he warned his men against taking advantage of the natives, as he had planned to eventually convert them to Christianity. A Spanish priest who traveled to Hispaniola wrote that he was appalled to witness dehumanizing acts of cruelty being inflicted on the Indians, such as torture used to subjugate their leaders.[citation needed}. Many of the natives ended up dying from starvation, disease, or simply being overworked.

Opposition to the holiday cites this cruelty committed by those under Columbus' leadership and that of many of the following European colonists. Columbus directly brought about the demise of many Taino (Arawak) Indians on the island of Hispaniola,[citation needed and the arrival of the Europeans indirectly caused the decline in population of many indigenous peoples by introducing diseases previously unknown in the New World. An estimated 85% of the Native American population was wiped out within 150 years of Columbus' arrival in America, due largely to diseases such as smallpox that spread among Native populations.[citation needed}Additionally, ensuing war and the appropriation of land and material wealth by European colonists also contributed to the decline of the indigenous populations in the Americas.

In the summer of 1990, 350 Native Americans, representatives from all over the hemisphere, met in Quito, Ecuador, at the first Intercontinental Gathering of Indigenous People in the Americas, to mobilize against the quincentennial celebration of Columbus Day. The following summer, in Davis, California, more than a hundred Native Americans gathered for a follow-up meeting to the Quito conference. They declared October 12, 1992, International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People. The largest ecumenical body in the United States, the National Council of Churches, called on Christians to refrain from celebrating the Columbus quincentennial, saying, "What represented newness of freedom, hope, and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others."

Michael Berliner, of the Ayn Rand Institute, has defended celebration of Columbus Day, hailing the European conquest of North America and describing the indigenous culture as “a way of life dominated by fatalism, passivity, and magic.” Western civilization, Berliner claimed, brought “reason, science, self-reliance, individualism, ambition, and productive achievement” to a people who were based in “primitivism, mysticism, and collectivism”, and to a land that was “sparsely inhabited, unused, and underdeveloped.