I should start this article by noting I don’t really mind Columbus Day. Really, my main issue with it is that other more important people don’t get holidays with similar importance attached to them. Where’s Thomas Jefferson day? How about James Madison day? Is a Ron Paul day entirely out of the question?
However, I do always find it fun pointing out hypocrisy, which brings us to the debates surrounding Columbus Day. While progressives have been talking about changing it to a day named after someone who didn’t kill thousands, or at least someone who was in the United States, conservatives have fought that idea every step of the way.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s tons to make fun with the pro-Columbus side. Take this statement from Steven Crowder over at PragerU:
First, as far as Columbus goes, the guy deserves some credit, right? Flawed, to be sure, but he was the greatest navigator of his age — the first person to cross the Atlantic from the continent of Europe. And he did so without any maps and only three small ships. If you can name them, by the way, comment below, as I’m sure your professor can’t.
I would argue Columbus was far from “the greatest navigator of his age.” Off the top of my head, most navigators, even in his own time, could tell the difference between the Americas and India.
However, what I find odd is that PragerU, like many right-wing groups, don’t much care for immigration. Why is this so odd? Because Columbus Day is actually an example of highly successful historical revisionism from Italian immigrants.
In the early 19th century, Italian immigrants were one of the most hated groups in American. Early European immigrants were quite hated in general, with the worst being the Italian and the Irish. While Irish had it worst by a long shot (they were often slaves similar to Africans without any of the evolutionary adaptations that made Africans use to tropical climates, so many were just burned alive) Italians had quite a harm time as well. They were commonly discriminated against and treated like they didn’t belong.
Allow me to give you an idea of how bad it was: What do you think of when it comes to Italian food? You more than likely thought of spaghetti. However, spaghetti is not an Italian food, it was a food made by Italian-Americans because they were to poor to afford to make Italian food.
At this point, many had also never heard of the name Christopher Columbus. Even among the most well-educated, he was commonly considered nothing more than a man who helped open trade route with what later became South America. Important? Decently, don’t get me wrong. However, far from “the man who discovered America,” like many were taught about him in school for generations.
In 1828, Washington Irving published a four volume called A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. However, fair is fair and while it is easy to dismiss Irving as the author of The Legend Of Sleepy Hallows and nothing more, he did write other non-fiction throughout his life. In fact the last books he wrote in his life (11 if you count all five volumes of The Life Of George Washington individually) were all non-fiction.
With that said, the creditably of Irving’s book is still quite shaky all things considered. While Irving did have quite a large amount of Spanish-language source material about Columbus he could pull from, he famously ignored a good amount of it. Many historians have called the book hyperbolic, and said that Irving put a love of his country above the actual facts of the situation.
One infamous example is Irving claiming that Columbus helped discover the world was round and that before then everyone just thought the Earth was flat. This is just incorrect.
First off, because people knew the world was round since at least the time of the Greeks. Pythagoras, for instance (or one of his followers) helped figure this out back before it was even AD. Even the Bible, a book I don’t much believe in, talks about “the circle of the earth,” at one point.
Second off, Columbus did not believe the Earth was a sphere. He believed the Earth was pear shape, which also meant he believed the distance from Europe to India was much shorter than most people thought. This was the basis for thinking he found India, as he, along with everyone else, was unaware the Americas existed.
However, Irving’s hyperbolic account of events happened to appeal to Italian Americans who were trying to find a place in American history. As such, they chose to propagate Irving’s incorrect work in order to make it look like they had a place.
So that’s the story of Columbus Day: Pro-immigrant propaganda.