Today is Columbus Day, a day that the federal government deems worthy of celebrating. But for many people throughout the Americas, Columbus represented an end of their traditional way of life and the beginning of one of the largest waves of genocide known to mankind.
Columbus’ own writing on his first contact with the native people of what is know Haiti and the Dominican Republic speaks volumes to the intentions of the explorer:
“They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
Columbus was employed by Spain, “who set its sights on colonization of foreign land in order to increase its dwindling economic and political power in Europe. Once the Americas were discovered as a land rich in natural resources and filled with expendable people, most of the European continent followed suit. In the proceeding 500 years, the indigenous population experienced genocide, colonization, slavery, and occupation, (though accompanied by an ever-existent spirit of resistance)” (1).
The rest, as they say, is history. But that history is a live and well today. Native people have lived under occupation for more than 500 years. Many migrants to the U.S. are indigenous people that have been traveling the continent along traditional migratory routs for hundreds of years. The oppression that they face has only increased through the expansion of U.S.-driven trade policy, including NAFTA and CAFTA.
NAFTA gave corporate America a free ticket to export middle-class US jobs and flooded the Mexican market with subsidized US grains, destroying the ability of small farmers to make a living off of corn production and along with it their centuries-old traditions closely attached to cultivation of the land. Without a means to compete with US-subsidized grains, indigenous and campesino Mexicans were forced to migrate north to find work.
But the history of indigenous people in the Americas overlaps with the oppression that non-indigenous people face here as well. Neoliberalism has played a major role in the current economic crisis, with hundreds of thousands of Americans now feeling the pressure that immigrants have felt for years. The Occupy Wall Street protests are “largely a result of the neoliberalization of the US economy and politics… As neoliberalism erodes the public sphere… every-day Americans are finding themselves without a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. This increasing frustration has driven people to the streets” (1).
If you know people who celebrate Columbus day, take a moment to share with them this excellent video that asks us to reconsider Columbus Day.