NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Should NECC celebrate Columbus?

Columbus day has a questionable past

Columbus Day has been a controversial holiday for a long time. There are several reasons for the controversy; first, it’s generally understood to celebrate Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America. Which he didn’t do.

What Columbus discovered was the Bahamas, and he only found them because he expected to be able to get to India — having massively underestimated the size of the Earth against (correct) scientific consensus.

As for the holiday’s history: Benjamin Harrison was the first president to instate Columbus Day as a holiday, in response to increasing violence towards Italian immigrants and citizens.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic-Italian organization, petitioned to have it made a federal holiday, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt did so in 1937. Nixon reaffirmed it as a federal holiday in 1972.

Even though Columbus Day is a federal holiday, it is not a national holiday.

A few states in the U.S. do not acknowledge Columbus Day as a holiday, and not all schools and workplaces have the day off. Only federal institutions are mandated to close for Columbus Day. States, schools and workplaces often disregard it because of Columbus’s problematic history. 

First: The Bahamas, as well as the American continents, were already inhabited when Columbus arrived, and so had already been ‘discovered’ for quite some time.

Second, Columbus was looking (to find India) for spices, jewels and precious metals for the Spanish monarchy. 

Columbus was imperialistic, hateful and violent. He was not respectful towards the indiginous people in the lands he colonized, and his behavior towards the people living in the lands he invaded has been described as genocidal.

He pillaged the islands and sold their inhabitants as slaves.

The heritage of Italian Americans is an important cultural touchstone that’s worth celebrating, but no one could in good faith make the case that Columbus Day does that.

What Columbus Day does is perpetuate mis-education about America’s history and celebrate imperialism, colonialism and genocide.

As a state, not federal, institution, NECC has a choice about whether to celebrate Columbus Day. The Observer Staff is not against getting a day off. But we should consider, at least, giving a different reason for it.