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🇬🇧 Columbus Day by César Bautista.

Every October the 12th, since the early XX century, there is a big celebration in many different countries (most of them in Latin America, but also the United States), to commemorate the time when, specifically, Christopher Columbus landed in the so-called “new continent” later on. But what is the actual meaning of this celebration? Is there a reason to celebrate at all? If so, what is that to celebrate? For many people, this day should simply be removed from the important anniversaries, but why? Let us try to answer these questions in the following lines. By the way, in Latin America, this celebration has different names, but the most common is El día de la Raza. We will discuss the meaning of this expression later.


Figure 1. "Columbus Landing". Dioscoro Puebla, 1862.

 

We should remember that in the late XV century, Europe was reaching the end of the middle age, and, among other interests, some kingdoms were actively looking for a new commercial path to India, since the main one (used for centuries) was taken by the ottoman empire, and they were not precisely willing to surrender it to the Catholics. In this search, literally by accident, and carrying the banner of the recently reunited Castilla and Aragon kingdoms in Spain, Europeans found out what was for them an entirely new continent, later called America (yes, dear reader, even if you find it hard to believe, America is a continent, not a country, and it goes from Alaska to Patagonia). But anyway, without knowing the further consequences of his steps, Columbus arrived on this continent, and by doing this, he changed and challenged the way these people in Europe had to understand the world and started a race of colonialism all around the world.



Figure 2. Jorge González Camarena. The fusion of two cultures, 1963 a mural at the Castillo de Chapultepec, Mexico City.

 

Now, this celebration (at least in Latin America) is making reference and trying to honor the process of human “breed” blending, for instance, in México, we had an intellectual in the early XX century whose name is José Vasconcelos. He wrote an essay entitled La Raza cósmica (it can be translated as The cosmic breed) and makes an interesting proposal: the cosmic breed, is the result of the blending of Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, and Asians; representing itself the 5th and ultimate breed which is culturally richer than the others, since it takes elements from its predecessors, and it is actually and historically well known that every civilization having contact with another or many others, will grow faster and develop technology, economics, religion, science, etcetera, but also social issues. This process by the way is known as syncretism: having two or more cultural elements sharing space and time, and giving as result a third one completely different, but improved by taking the best of the other ones (but also it might take the worst, because human too human).


The proposal of Vasconcelos is eminently political, given his context, he was trying to forge a national identity using the historical blood and cultural nature of the holders: the 5th breed culture. We cannot deny the process of mixing cultures might be convulsive, violent, indeed it was, but, the author of this entry, as a historian, is aware that mankind should not spend their present complaining about their past, but face it, endure it, and move forward.


Figure 3. Diego Rivera, "The colonial system", a mural at National Palace, México City, 1949.

 

Then, in the second half of the XX century, another author, Edmundo O’Gorman, wrote another essay entitled La invención de América (The invention of America) in which he begins by questioning either we should talk about “the discovery” or “the invention” or America.

This could be considered an epistemological approach; in the first case, “the discovery”, implies the idea that we are talking about a thing (in this case land, a continent), that had no exitance or nature or has been conceptualized or appropriated by no one before the Europeans. So, accepting this means we are reducing the native Americans as inhabitants of this territory, to zero, no meaning at all, in the end, they were reduced to slaves, so their culture, traditions, and history doesn’t really matters, history is being written here by the winners. In the second case, that is closer to O’Gorman’s point of view, “the invention” of America is more accurate to what really happened; a group of foreign explorers arrived to this territory and made an appropriation (material and conceptual) of everything they found. They brought everything into their ways of understanding, religion, political and economic systems, inventing this territory to their own benefit and needs. The only attempt to approach to the other’s (the native Americans) understanding, was performed to bring them into their (Europeans) lead, by the hand of the church and political institutions. This essay has been utterly controversial and has opened the gate of reviewing historical perspectives.


In recent days the criticism against this celebration (under the argument that it perpetuate the conqueror's speech, not actually showing respect to the native civilizations that found their cultural development cut in one shot and were reduced to slavery) has gained new and numerous adepts, as far as the government of Mexico City decided to remove the statue of Columbus, that used to be in one of the main venues of the city. There is no doubt humanity still has a long way to go to reinvent itself in a more inclusive way. Working on it.


In Meet Your Tour Guide, we believe that humans cannot change facts about their past, but can change their perspective about it, and re-invent humanity to a better, inclusive, and respectful society.


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