My first introduction to the great Italian Sea Captain, Christopher Columbus (a.k.a Cristóbal Colón), began with the following poem, recited by my 5th grade elementary school class, on his official day of remembrance:
“In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.
A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.
Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.
Then the workers went to sleep;
And others watched the ocean deep.
Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.
October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!
“Indians! Indians!” Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.
But “India” the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.
The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.
Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he’d been told.
He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.
The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.”
In less than 250 words, my classmates and I had learned the “story” of Columbus, and in doing so, we were taught to honor his place in history, and recognize October 12th, 1492 as the day in which Columbus “discovered” America.
But, of course, as many of us would go onto find out, Mr. Columbus’ place in history just so happens to be a little controversial.
On one hand, Columbus is celebrated throughout the Americas as a great explorer and brave sea captain who dared to cross an ocean in search of alternate trade routes to Asia, the man responsible for the first meeting of european and indigenous peoples and cultures in the “New World.”
But on the other hand, Columbus is seen as a brutal colonizer, responsible for the killing and raping of thousands upon thousands of members of the indigenous populations native to the lands he “discovered.” Furthermore, others argue that he essentially set the stage for the slave trade in the Americas.
Is he a hero?
Is he a villian?
Or is he both?
I’ll let you decide.
But to perhaps give you some alternate perspectives, here are some different street art images from Quito, Ecuador, where I found a few anti-Columbus sentiments…
What’s your take on Columbus?