Christopher Columbus was a murderer. He was slave owner and caused more damage to the Native American population than just about any other character in history. That’s the truth.
Christopher Columbus was innovative. He had a scientific mind and he wasn’t afraid to take a risk when the rest of the people in world seemed to be twiddling their thumbs. That’s true too.
This past Saturday in Spain was a national holiday. All of the shops were closed, there was a huge parade through Madrid, people waved their Spanish flags as the king and queen and the Spanish military walked by People were celebrating for a few reasons, but one of the most important, the voyage of Christopher Columbus to America. He is a hero here. He brought fame, glory and riches to Spain, and people here seem more than happy to celebrate him.
I can’t help but think of past Columbus Days in Denver. While there was a parade for Italian pride, Native Americans and their supporters protested and riots broke out, because people were disgusted by the fact that this murderer of a man could actually be celebrated. You can’t talk about Columbus in the U.S. now without talking about the damage he did to the native people. And yet here in Spain, his damage almost seems to be an afterthought.
Seeing the difference of Columbus’s memory in Spain shocked me. I asked both my house mother and a professor why Columbus was regarded to highly here, with seemingly no opposition.
“Well yeah, he wasn’t the greatest guy, but he wasn’t that different from everyone else at the time,” my house mother told me. “He wasn’t afraid to take a risk. He did what no one else did.”
“He was just a brilliant man,” my professor told me. “His scientific journals are extremely important. He was around at the same time as Ferdinand and Isabella, what Columbus did was nothing compared to those two.”
Perhaps it’s easier to say that when it is not your country he changed so drastically; also perhaps there just are a couple of ways of looking at the man that I did not realize.
My own perception of Columbus has changed with time. As a little girl, I was happy to have the day off, and I loved hearing about all of his boats and how he wasn’t afraid to see if the world was flat. As I grew older, I was shocked to learn of all the atrocities he committed. And now, seeing him from a new country and different eyes, I see that he can, and probably should, be looked at in both ways.
Being here has made me realize, firsthand, how history can get changed and switched around depending on who it is you are talking to and what experiences they come from.
I would love to go to England and find out what they think of the Revoluntionary War. While America makes July 4 a national holiday and brags about how the common man fought up against the strongest country of its time, the people of England at the time probably thought that they just didn’t try that hard in the war because it wasn’t all that important.
Both perceptions of Columbus are true, just different, and neither all-encapsulating. Sometimes you might just have to look through others’ eyes and others’ experiences to see it.