Columbus Day is arguably the most divisive of all federal holidays. There’s no mail service. Some big banks are closed. And while plenty of stores offer “Columbus Day Savings,” the specials they’re promoting tend to indicate the explorer wasn’t the keenest shopper on the planet.
While he’s credited for leading the charge of European immigration to North America, history has shown that Christopher Columbus was less a heroic historical figure and more of an arch-villain, bringing disease, wars and more to what would eventually become the U.S. and brutalizing Native Americans in the process.
Columbus Day trivia
Among the things historians have learned about Columbus: He enslaved many West Indies natives, seizing six of them the first day he hit land in 1492 to make them his servants. Thousands were sent to Spain to be sold. And others were forced to search for gold in mines.
Within 60 years of his landing, there were only a few hundred Taino natives left, compared to the 250,000 who were there when he arrived.
That’s not slowing down the celebrations. New York City, for instance, will today host its 73rd annual Columbus Day parade on Fifth Ave., with 35,000 people marching and over 100 bands, floats and groups. Officials say they expect protesters at the event.
Columbus Day protests
Protests are nothing new when it comes to this holiday, but they’ve picked up a lot of steam recently. Last week, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles County decided to recognize Indigenous People’s Day on the second Monday of every October, rather than Columbus Day.
President Donald Trump, in a statement about the holiday, did not mention Native Americans, focusing instead on Columbus’s Italian heritage. That’s a key point for supporters of the holiday, who say regardless of Columbus’ actions over 500 years ago, it’s an important symbolic day for Italian-Americans.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio is learning this the hard way. Earlier this year, he formed a committee to evaluate whether monuments to certain historical figures — including one of Columbus in Columbus Circle — should be removed. For that, he was disinvited to a parade being held today in the Bronx.