As a kid, Columbus Day was a glorious break from school when it felt like Thanksgiving was ages away and the academic term had been in session for absolutely forever. As a new college graduate joining the 9-to-5 workforce, it was a blessed government holiday with no gifts or roasted meats involved— a day to stay in pjs, watch a brat-pack movie marathon and pretend tomorrow’s cubicle was nonexistent. Occasionally, in honor of the great Chris, I’d recite the little ditty: “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.” That was Columbus Day.
But after spending a portion of this past summer in Barcelona, I have a new appreciation for the renowned Colón. After all, when a man’s statue stands valiantly at the inception of the city’s main thoroughfare, you take notice. The Spanish certainly have much to be proud. (Forgetting for a historical minute that he was technically Italian and all.)
A meager Google search reminded me that Columbus singlehandedly discovered a substantial portion of the globe: all of the Americas and many an isle. I knew this, of course, but I’d never taken a good, strong minute to fathom what it might feel like to have someone 500 years from now say: “Oh, yeah, that Sarah McCoy, she discovered this whole section of the planet. Sure, sure. Happy McCoy Day, pass me the Doritos.”
So I figured Columbus deserved at least five minutes of my undivided attention. A moment to recognize the facts. For example: Did you know that a majority of the Americas call today Día de la Raza (Day of the (Hispanic) Race). That’s a pretty hefty title: DAY OF THE HISPANIC RACE. Wow. Talk about pressure. And perhaps that’s why it goes by year after year with such little fanfare—too much significance. Yes, elementary school teachers attach festive paper cutouts of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa María to felt boards and read a picture book or two in preparation. But for a majority of the adult population, it’s a day off from work. Period.
I understand the idea of “discovery” is not all rainbows and moonbeams. For indigenous people, celebrating the fact that somebody else came along and colonized them may not be so la dee da. Columbus discovered Puerto Rico on his second voyage. He found the island populated by almost 50,000 Taino Indians who welcomed him with gold nuggets from the island’s rivers and hospitably invited him to take what he wanted. A decade later when the Spanish took over, I’m sure they wished they’d kept their shiny rocks to themselves. Discovery has a price tag. I get it.
Yet, as a woman of Hispanic lineage, I must raise my cup to Mr. Colón. He discovered what would become the United States of America. He discovered Puerto Rico. My two home countries. I would not be here had he not jumped on his little wooden ship and traversed the seas in search of new worlds and, yes, pecuniary gains. He was a businessman, an adventurer, a risk-taker, a dreamer. Qualities I greatly admire. These characteristics are what prompted the Spanish to raise a monument in his name, and I wholeheartedly agree. So today I remember him, honor his spirit, and hope that in my life, I never fear sailing over the edge of the world.
Happy Columbus Day!
Yours truly, Sarah