I was born on Columbus Day, October 12. The day he landed on the outer shores of a world he’d had no idea existed.
Genocide and disease and famine and slavery. That is what the Europeans brought. Boarding schools and the rape and abuse of children stolen from their homes. Cultural devastation. Spiritual corrosion.
I lived for about twenty years in Illinois. Its beautiful grasslands and forests have been mostly decimated, turned into hideous cornfields that leach the soil. I saw a tiny crop of land, less than an acre, at a community college, exploding with high grass and flowers. That was the world before Europeans came.
Do you know how unlovely corn is? Especially in unbroken multitudes across silent miles? Corn, and the diarrhea of cow “farms.” That’s what Illinois is choked with now. I was raised near and used to love small-town Americana, but I’ve come to see a terrifying erasure of the first peoples. White American culture is so false. It’s built on a couple short centuries of absolute brutishness. A narrative of erasure and elision. So many ghosts.
I hear people say, even my more liberal white friends, that we should take the bad with the good and accept what America is today. Celebrate the barbarous advent of Columbus into that rich thicket of age-old cultures. Accept that we who live today have all benefited from Europeans conquering the Americas.
That wouldn’t include the indigenous peoples decimated by disease, famine, massacre (genocide — deliberate), now shuffled off to live in poverty and degradation in ghettos, their land in most cases stolen. How did they benefit, exactly? What purpose does it serve to distort history?
The gods of this season, like the gods of the Fourth of July, the gods of Thanksgiving, are ill stars to herald a birth. Gods of denial, repression. Shades of the dead.
When I was a child, I loved being born on this patriotic saint’s day. I was sad when it shifted to a work Monday regardless of date. My birthday wasn’t so flexible.
But now I am an adult, and I’ve read the histories. We celebrate Columbus Day because the U.S. defiantly continues to enact its original sins. Continues colonialism. Continues racist hegemonies. I don’t feel like making any wishes this year, but if I did, I’d just ask people to look beyond blindly clenching their few strips of racial privilege to their chests. And just listen. The indigenous peoples of the Americas are still among us. They are still here.