2017-10-11 / Community View


Columbus Day a holiday of mixed interest to many

If you’re of a certain vintage, you probably have, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” rattling around someplace in the back of your brain. If you’re like me, that’s all you remember of an interminably long grade school poem of questionable historical accuracy.

When I was a kid Columbus Day was an excuse for a lame school play, involving at least one kid wearing tights and his dad’s shirt cinched with a wide belt. After the play his mom would head off to the mall to check out the Columbus Day sale bargains.

When I was a little older it was an excuse for a drunken, semi-naked sailboat race in Biscayne Bay, not unlike Lake St. Clair’s Jobby Nooner, which just about everybody knows about, but no one respectable actually admits to having seen anywhere other on the six o’clock news.

These days it seems like its warped into an excuse for half of us to stand on one side of the cultural divide while pointing at those on the other while shrieking more or less unintelligibly.

I get it, if my ancestors were Native Americans, or as our friends to the north are fond of says First Nations, I wouldn’t be keen on Columbus Day. After all, one day a bunch of guys showed up on the beach in funny hats and then next thing the locals knew they were trying to defend Alcatraz.

It’s probably the strongest case for having a restrictive immigration policy and tight control on your borders. Then again, if the locals had had either of those, this conversation wouldn’t be happening.

If not for Columbus my Irish ancestors would have stayed in their bog and my German ancestors would still be in the Black Forest and I would not exist. Matter of fact, all but 441 of us would not be here, and I’m not even sure about all of them since one-half of one percent of the county’s population claims some native ancestry.

So, is Columbus the poster boy for white supremacy? Hard to say. He was an Italian working for the Catholic monarchs of Spain. At one point or another, Italians and Catholics were despised minorities. Italians weren’t considered “white” until World War II and some parts of our body politic still want to build a wall to keep the Spanish speakers out.

What is certain is that we are a complex place, more of a stew or gumbo than the melting pot of our elementary school myths. That stew, which allowed the best ideas bubble to the surface is the reason we are the last super power standing.

When we start picking things out of the recipe, we risk messing it up.

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