Point Park students and political science expert speak out on Columbus’ legacy amid ongoing national debate – Point Park Globe

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Over the weekend, Americans across the United States continued an ongoing debate about celebrating a national day – and Pittsburgh was no exception.

On Saturday, October 9, Pittsburgh held its annual Columbus Day Parade after it was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to local news station WPXI, the parade included “over 100 groups, floats, organizations and businesses.” Along with the parade procession, former Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris, served as Grand Marshal of the event.

Traditionally recognized on October 12 (although often observed on the second Monday in October), Columbus Day celebrates the arrival of a European expedition led by Christopher Columbus to the land which is now known as the United States of America. America. In the early 1900s, several states declared a “Columbus Day,” and in 1934, former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the first federal celebration, making it a national holiday. It then obtained federal public holiday status in 1971.

Andrew Bensch, a major junior in political science at Point Park, explained how Columbus Day has evolved over time from a celebration of a single explorer to a wider recognition of a subset of the American population. .

“Columbus Day has a very interesting origin,” said Bensch. “While the holiday itself was meant to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ journey to the Americas in 1492, the holiday became popular because it was seen as a source of Italian pride. Italian immigrants were treated very badly when they first arrived in America, so the holiday was a way for them to celebrate their heritage since Columbus was a Genoese. “

Although presidents have since noted the Columbus expedition as a national proclamation for Italian heritage, through celebration of individual exploration and set ideals, Time reports that many began to challenge Columbus’ actions during his time. time compared to recent historical events.

“Its legacy involves the mass extermination of most of the indigenous peoples who already lived here,” Bensch said. “I don’t think the origins of the holiday are necessarily sinister, but I also don’t think we should be celebrating Columbus as a person. He is responsible for more of the negative than the positive.

In recent years, the accounts of the mistreatment of indigenous peoples by Christopher Columbus have become more widely recognized. John Ziegler, a junior political science student at Point Park, said that while the Columbus expedition should not be forgotten, its past also cannot be ignored.

“The feat of ‘discovering the new world’ is an important detail in history and should certainly be studied, but as a society we cannot ignore the egregious acts he oversaw,” Ziegler said. “Christopher Columbus was certainly not the only one acting this way, and that doesn’t excuse him, but it is certainly worth examining the pasts of other ‘heroes’ in our history books. The feat should be studied and discussed, but Columbus should not be seen as a hero. “

Not only did Columbus’ actions serve as an accusation against his own character in the eyes of some, but what was once considered his greatest achievement has been widely discredited by historians.

In the past, Columbus was credited with “discovering” America. However, this has been contested with increasing frequency in the recent past. Author Russell Freedman reviewed the story of Columbus in his 2007 book, “Who Was the First?

“For a long time, most people believed that Christopher Columbus was the first explorer to ‘discover’ America, the first to make a successful round trip across the Atlantic,” wrote Russell. “But in recent years, as new evidence has emerged, our understanding of history has changed. We now know that Columbus was among the last explorers to reach the Americas, not the first. “

The presence of indigenous peoples on the continent before Columbus arrived belies the idea of ​​his discovery, leading historians to debate whether he was really the first to discover America.

Professor Ed Meena, who teaches several history classes at Point Park, including New World Exploration, said the Vikings were among those who reached America before Columbus.

“The first Europeans who were here were actually the Vikings,” Meena said. “Most of what American students have said about Columbus is quite mythological.”

Meena went on to accuse the American public education system of sometimes deviating from the truth in order to create a more acceptable story for students, especially early in their college careers.

“American history is taught in neat little bundles of stories and fables that in some cases never really happened. They sort of promote a part of the existence of the United States that we’re trying to portray in a positive light. Probably until the 1960s or 1970s, American history conveniently left out many achievements and achievements of minority groups, many different faces, ”Meena said. “

The idea that Columbus sailed the Blue Ocean in 1492 is good, but it doesn’t really allow people to understand what was already in place when he arrived, and what the consequences of his coming were. here for the natives.

– Professor Ed Meena

“It wouldn’t be the real story, if it were presented that way, but, for convenience, it isn’t.”

Although Christopher Columbus was specifically the target of much of the controversy, he was not the only one mistreating Indigenous peoples, according to Meena. He described the role others played in this chapter of American history.

“It’s not so much the individual actions of Columbus,” he said. “It was the state of mind of Western civilization in the face of other civilizations in the world.”

Despite concerns over Columbus’ legacy, celebrations continued, such as the annual parade in Pittsburgh. This is probably due in part to how the holiday has evolved over its history, extending beyond Columbus only to celebrate Italian Americans as a whole. TribLive reported in 2020 that Italian-American residents of Pittsburgh gathered near the Christopher Columbus statue in Schenley Park to protest its planned removal, even suing the city to keep it in place.

Columbus Day parade organizer Tony Ferraro told WPXI the event aimed to “honor Italian heritage and recognize the work of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.”

During the parade, Franco Harris’ role as Grand Marshal was a result of his own Italian heritage. It was even cited by Ferraro as “a shining example of the kind of community we strive to be”.

The future of Columbus Day as a public holiday remains uncertain. Several alternatives to Columbus Day have been proposed, the most popular being Indigenous Peoples Day. Unlike Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates the history of Native Americans, as well as recognition of the atrocities committed against them in America’s past.

The alternative of celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day has been overwhelmingly supportive, leading several states and districts, such as South Dakota, Hawaii, and Washington DC, to replace Columbus Day entirely. On October 8, President Joe Biden became the first in office history to make an official proclamation recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, officially making it a national holiday.

Following the recognition, Biden also issued a separate proclamation regarding Columbus Day 2021, allowing the two holidays to coexist for the time being.

“I love that Columbus Day is renamed as Indigenous Peoples Day, and I hope it will be renamed everywhere,” said Bensch. “At the same time, we should learn more about Columbus and all he has done. We need to understand why we are here today, including the atrocities that have paved the way to this point.


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