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Columbus Day: America’s Celebration Of The Taino Genocide (By: Jenelia Aponte-Andrade)

The month of October is usually when I start to feel the jump-start of the new season. Everyone is excited with all the new fashion, football is starting up, the leaves are changing color and, there’s a crisp feeling in the air that greets you every time you walk outside. Families are gathering for apple and pumpkin picking, and white girls are lining up for pumpkin spice flavored anything. Yoga pants, UGG boots, and sexy Halloween costumes… How can you not love the month of October? In addition to all the exciting activities one can partake in this month, one should also take the opportunity to become more socially aware involved. The month of October is a time where anyone who is involved in the tireless efforts to cure breast cancer and prevent domestic violence should be ESPECIALLY celebrated and honored for their contributions/hardships. Although their work should be recognized and commended year round, it is encouraged to wear either pink (breast cancer) or purple (domestic violence) throughout this month to show your support for the causes.

Lastly, the month of October is the final stretch of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which kicked off on September 15th and continues until October 15th. (For those who know me, I’m sure you can understand why a month full of women empowerment and historical recognition of my people would excite me so.) National Hispanic Heritage Month started in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson assumed he was doing Latinos a service by giving them one week out of the year for Latinos to reflect on and celebrate their culture and the many contributions they have made to the betterment of our society. In 1988, President Ronald Regan extended the gratuity to a full 30-day cycle. The unusual start date of the month is because the 15th of September is the anniversary of independence for many Latino countries. It continues into October because President Regan and the United Nations wanted to recognize Columbus Day as a part of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Little facts in history that make you go, “Hmm?” …Now, I am not saying that President Regan was wrong when he suggested Columbus Day should be apart of National Hispanic Heritage Month, it in fact makes perfect sense. In order to be able to fully celebrate the overcoming of hardships and the continuous fight of oppression, we must learn to celebrate our history for all that it is. Whether it be tales of triumph, or stories of somber, your HISTORY is the most important aspect of the person that you are/are becoming today. In saying this, a problem that prevents me from being able to fully accept and celebrate NHHM with the utmost amount of pride, is the history that is taught regarding my people, our interaction with Christopher Columbus, and the traditional celebration of his holiday.

When you reflect on your childhood and your primitive exposure to Italian-voyager Christopher Columbus, what comes to mind? It is a common consensus, especially in our nation, that most of our knowledge regarding Columbus is limited. We know that he is largely celebrated through out Italian-American culture, but do we even know why? Sure, Columbus was born in Italy but we also learned that he spent most of his earlier years working in Portugal before he moved to Spain and set on his voyage. We know through various childhood cartoons and sing-a-longs, that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue to retrieve riches, gold, spices and essentially instill a trade route from Spain to the Indies (what is now South East Asia.) We were also told that Columbus set out to prove to all of Europe once and for all that the world was in fact round, not flat. This  “conquest of discovery” was one that was approved and funded by the then King and Queen of Spain in hopes of a flourished economy upon the return of Columbus. We know now today that the true initial intentions of the quest never came to fruition. Instead, around this time, 522 years ago, Columbus found himself only days away from the conclusion of his first voyage: “the discovery of the America’s.” On October 12th, 1492, Columbus and his three ships accompanied by an all Spaniard crew “stumbled upon” what is known today as “The Great Bahamas,” thus, making him the proverbial Steve Jobs of the America’s.

Columbus returned to Spain after his travels in 1943 and greeted the king and queen with stories of success from his “voyage of discovery.” These stories prompted a second, third, and fourth voyage, but since Columbus had already “discovered”, he was left with a new task to claim and colonize land under the rule of Spain. He came, he saw, he conquered, and after leaving his mark on most of the Caribbean and parts of South America, he returned from his voyages to Spain in 1504. He spent the next two years of his life wallowing in self-disappointment due to his failure to travel to his primary destination, and so he died with no idea of what would become of his name.

It is on the 2nd Monday of October for the past 40 years that we celebrate Columbus’ tireless, yet unintentional and accidental efforts to form the foundation for this country we know and love. Businesses and schools nationwide close down for the day to pay homage and respect to this proclaimed stupendous “discovery.” Even in our very own Lil’ Rhody, Columbus Day weekend is celebrated largely by a weekend long festival on Federal Hill. Beginning with a parade down Atwells Avenue, the festival is followed by live entertainment, and food vendors set up by The Hill’s very own restaurants, and as much as it pains me to say it beats the annual MLK Jr. Day breakfast by a long shot. As a conclusion to the festivities, a mass in honor of “the Admiral of the Ocean Sea,” takes place in churches nationwide. During the services, it is taught that it was part of God’s plan for Columbus to discover the America’s. In rejoice, people take to their knees in prayer, hands clasped, listening to the patriotically influenced sermon that is delivered by the churches most divine. They are asked to thank God for leading Columbus to his discoveries, for without him, there’s an existing chance we wouldn’t be here today. The church also recognizes and celebrates the work of prophecy Columbus committed himself to throughout his journey. Spreading the word and successfully converting indigenous non-believers in to righteous men of God. Amen…but wait, there’s more!

Reminiscent of the largely celebrated mock-holiday “Black Friday,” Columbus Day weekend is yet another annual holiday where our nation can enjoy generous 20% off and BOGO deals at any major department store. I don’t know what celebrates American culture more? Excessive encouragement to spend money on things you don’t need or using false propaganda to hide centuries of rape, pillage, and genocide, all while rewriting and retelling the events of what actually happened….so, now that I just dropped this ever so surprising knowledge bomb on y’all, allow me to reintroduce our nations true “founding father”, Christopher Columbus!

First off, there is some truth to the story that we are told in our youth about Christopher Columbus. He was in fact sponsored and funded by Queen Isabella I of and King Ferdinand II of Spain to travel and seek the East Indies (South East Asia.) Columbus convinced the King and Queen that on his voyage he would seek out gold, spices, and discover a trade route between the Indies and Spain. This was Columbus’ only motivation behind setting out on his voyage. The idea that Columbus’ was trying to prove the world was round is either a myth, or Columbus was smokin’ on that good early. Greek philosophers Pythagoras, Aristotle and Plato had already made it indubitably clear in the early BC age that the world was in fact spherical with no debate further questioning it to date.

Secondly, Christopher Columbus was no more courageous, intelligent, or righteous than any man that had been taken from their home against their own free will and forced into slavery. Columbus has no idea what he was doing or where he was going. When he set sail for the Indies, it is reported that the man kept TWO captain’s logs. One reported the true sequence of events as they occurred, and the other gave a false depiction of the voyage. He would show the false log to his crewmen on the ship to trick them into staying on board with him and to Queen Isabella I when he returned… quite comparable in modern terms to our usage of screenshots. When he finally hit land on the Bahamas, he believed to not be too far off the trail to reach the East Indies…10,000 miles away.

 

Hence, this is where the geological reference to the Caribbean as the “West Indies” was coined. It is also how/why people started referring to Native Americans as “Indians” because the Spaniard settlers did not know what to refer to the indigenous people as. When his ship arrived in the Bahamas he was greeted by a colony of Taino Indians who had come bearing gifts of gold, cotton, and parrots. Columbus immediately enslaved these troops and exploited them for their goods and knowledge of the land.

 

With 50 of these men, we can subjugate them and make them do whatever we want.”

 

Columbus and his crew also felt ever so entitled to the women of the Taino tribe. There are reports from Columbus’ log that say under his Government, which consisted of: Hispanola (Haiti/Dominican Republic,) Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, Spaniard settlers were be allowed 5+ Taino women per man to treat at their own discretion. This right consequentially resulted in the rape and murder of millions of indigenous women and children.

Lastly, When Columbus arrived to Spain in 1943; he returned with some indigenous people that he planned on enslaving. He had also left about 40 of his men behind in La Navidad fort to “watch-after” the land after one of ships had sunk.  Queen Isabella reportedly disapproved of the use of Tainos as slaves because they were now considered people of Spain due to the new rule. She ordered that on his return to the West Indies he did not try to enslave, but develop trusting and loving relations with the native people.

The King and Queen wasted no time to send Columbus back in that same year. This time he was going to be sent to colonize and conquer, and he did just that. Columbus arrived to Hispanola with 1300 men, 17 vessels all filled with livestock. When Columbus arrived back to the Carribean, specifically the fort where he had left his 39 men (La Navidad,) he found that the indigenous Taino’s rebelled against the Spaniards and murdered the entire crew as revenge for raping their women. This event is one of the firsts that would result in the 27-year-long-slaughter of 3 million people, also known as the Taino genocide.

Throughout the rest of his time spent settled in the West Indies, Columbus tirelessly worked the Taino people into building his “New World.” A vast majority of the Taino’s we’re killed off based solely on the type of labor Columbus was forcing them to do. The 1300 Spaniard men that joined Columbus on his way back to Hispaniola all fought against the native tribes. They would burn their bodies, train their animals to attack and rip the Tainos to pieces, and to make sure anything like The Massacre at La Navidad never happened again, Columbus enforced a rule that stated for every Spaniard that is killed, 100 Taino’s had to die. Over the course of seven years, Columbus grew ill and agitated with the lack of progress he had made in attempts to build a new world. His unfamiliarity with the type of climate and agriculture of the West Indies made it very difficult for him to build on the land. More than half of the Tainos had now been killed off from labor, murder, disease, and in some cases suicide. His Spaniard men also grew agitated with him and made attempts to have him killed. Columbus knew that he had to return to Spain soon, but if he did he would arrive with nothing he had promised the King and Queen. He began designating quotas for gold to all Tainos 13 years old and older. Failure to produce goods would result in the hands of the Tainos’ being cut off, eventually causing them to die. It was also around this time that Columbus began enforcing and heavily converting Taino people to the Catholic religion. Any native who refused the acceptance of this religion was to be unmercifully slaughtered for all of the tribe to see. Word of his misfortune and psychotic break had spread back to Spain and Columbus was brought back to the country in shackles, along with 500 Taino slaves (half of which died on the boat ride over from smallpox.) After being released in the country of Spain Columbus made one more attempt at a New World in Hispaniola. This time, he brought over 500 African slaves that were enslaved by Spain. These slaves also mingled with the Taino tribe and the children conceived by the rape from the Spaniard settlers. The immersion of these three groups is believed to be the introduction of what most descendants from Taino tribes, African tribes, and Spanish settlers from identify themselves as Afro-Latino to date. The ancestors of these mingled slaves are found predominately in Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico today. In 1502, Columbus finally accepted he was not suitable to build the New World, and returned to Spain where he died two years later. Even after his death, Columbus’ legacy and genocide campaign trickled down into the hands of other Spanish settlers. By 1514, the population of Taino’s was reduced to 32,000 from the original 3 million, a ridiculous decline in such a short matter of time.

 

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People who keep American traditions such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial and Columbus day alive typically take much pride and joy in being apart of such a “rich culture,” and when you think about it, how could they not? For as long as we can remember we’ve been taught to take pride in being American, so much so our pride translates to pity in the act of comparison. We are led to believe a country superior to us is non-existent, it’s impossible to be as educated, resourceful, and free anywhere else in the world and it is because of our “diverse and deep rooted background” we are allowed to free ourselves of mental slavery so easily…but one cannot help but ponder exactly how can we be free when the pathway to freedom is found through truth? The idea of freedom is all but an idea until the real beginnings of our paths are brought to light. Would the world work differently if large parts of our history had not been erased, re-written, and then taught to us? If the British told the truth about what happened when they arrived at Plymouth Rock instead of creating this façade of instant gratification between them and the Native Americans, would there still be such turmoil between modern tribes and European descendants today? If we celebrated Independence Day knowing that enslaved Black men who were PROMISED their freedom at the end of the Civil War remained enslaved, undocumented and forgotten after July 4th, 1777 would we think twice before throwing that cookout? And now I ask you, whether Latino, Afro-Latino, Asian, African, Black or White – after being formed of what Columbus actually discovered, will you wake up Monday morning to celebrate the life of a European who commenced and lead the extinction of an entire race, or will you hold your head high in pride to be able to share a country with people who are descendants of survivors? The beauty of America, the choice is yours.

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