I noticed today that the holiday hate started even earlier than I remember it starting before. Now being raised religious I know a lot of people are going to think I am going to talk about Halloween. But really for most churches they divide into three camps, one ignore it as it's the devil's holiday, two lighten up Francis, it's just kids and candy or three turn it into Fall Harvest Festival and do all of the things you would do for Halloween except don't call it that. My church and private Baptist middle school were strong Harvest Festival groups. There was always a party at the church on Halloween night and we were encouraged to go there instead of mixing with the heathens, I mean other kids. In fact the first time I went trick or treating I was in high school and I took my nephew.
No, it used to be that real holiday intolerance wasn't around until Christmas and it was pretty focused there. Don't wish me Merry Xmas and all of that nonsense. Then a few years ago I noticed it spreading to Thanksgiving, with people refusing to celebrate because of our troubled history with the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. And lately there has been a really outspoken group popping up around Columbus Day. Which is one of those that holidays I have to say I have a hard time getting overly excited about. I have to make a confession here though, I grew up in New Mexico and I cannot remember Columbus Day ever being a big deal. It was a day off of school, and obviously I knew who he was, sort of, but see, Columbus Day falls in the middle of Balloon Fiesta so while the rest of you were learning about ships and trade routes and bad directions I was making a paper-mache hot air balloon.
When I went to college in San Diego I was sitting in my history class and the professor says..."In fourteen hundred and ninety two...." and the entire rest of the class except me chants back at him...."Columbus sailed the ocean blue." What the hell? How did I miss this little rhyme? And the names of the three ships? The something, the something else and that other one? Seems they all knew it down pat...the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria. It's like they had all taken totally different classes than I had! Now of course this particular professor went on to blow everyone's minds with what a total asshole Christopher Columbus actually was and they were all shocked, shocked I tell you! Except me. Because see, I had recently made my own mind-blowing discovery in San Diego regarding history and I wasn't as easily impressed with the way we were taught (or would have been if not for the allure of balloons you can ride in) history and how the story changes depending on who is doing the telling.
You have all heard me wax poetic about the food of New Mexico. There is nothing like it anywhere else. And the reason is that it's not Mexican. Or Spanish. Or Native American. It's a blending of the three. It's all of it. Living in Albuquerque I had friends who were Isleta Pueblo, Navajo, Spanish and Mexican and trust me you didn't want to get them confused. If you called someone who traced their family line to the conquistadors Mexican they would have a few choice words for you. And god forbid you mix up a Pueblo with a Navajo...just not good. But all of these influences color New Mexico's history (and food!) and you learn about different perspectives because of it. But you don't notice it while you are growing up there. It's just part of what is there. Until you see a different perspective.
So fast forward to moving to San Diego. A friend and I (she also was from Albuquerque) are in an art museum looking at at statue of the Conquistadors and the local Indians. And we are both just staring at it. Because it's a familiar name and a familiar story, just from a different perspective. See, where I am from the Spaniards were actually the bad guys. They tried to convert the natives through bloodshed and violence. It was a horrible time period until it all sorted itself out and we all learned how to live in peace without prejudice (okay, that last part didn't happen, but it got better). But in San Diego they were the good guys. Now how could I tell that just by looking at the art work? Because where I come from if you are looking at art depicting that time period the Natives are tall and strong and regal looking while the Spaniards are kind of short and gnarled. But in this art work (and we saw it repeated through the gallery) the Natives were short, squaty, unhealthy looking people and the Spaniards were tall and strong and regal! Mind. Blown. It was one of those moments where the phrase "History is written by the victors" really made sense.
So it wasn't that shocking to me to hear the stories about the bad guys coming to a land that was already peopled and laying waste to the inhabitants, first by germs that they had no immunity to and then once that took hold by sheer numbers. They just kept coming and coming and coming. I already knew this story. I knew that it was cute that the East Coasters thought a settlement from 1565 that was still a US city was a big deal when I had been to Acoma which was settled hundreds of years before that. European history is different than Pueblo Indian history, you see and it depends on who your teachers are on what version you get.
So this leads us to now, where people take your stance on days like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving and use it as some sort of litmus test as to what type of person you are. And I roll my eyes. (For those of you who are friends on Facebook you know this leads to much Good Denise/Bad Denise dialog in my head) I get it, you are appalled at his behavior. Who does something like that? Land someplace and see that the people are peaceful and the first inclination is what great slaves they would make? Kidnaps some locals to take back with him to Spain for show and tell? Who is like that? Well, a lot of people in that era were. And even later. It wasn't uncommon for people to think that anyone who didn't look like them or pray to the god they did was less than. Good thing we've fixed that little problem right? Oh wait...that's uncomfortable let's not dwell on that right now.
Anyway, am I saying that we should celebrate Christopher Columbus? There has long been debate here about it due to the fact that he didn't even reach the US. He spent most of his time in Cuba and Hispanola. A little bit of time in Central and South America, but not really any farther north. But what he did do was start the European fascination with the Americas. And that looking at what he did do, slavery, forced conversions to Catholicism, disease spreading, starting the European fascination with the Americas, shows that this isn't someone that we should be celebrating. But see, here is the thing with history. It's what happened. It's why were are here. And it's messy. And bloody. And appalling. And we read about what happened in 1492 through our 2012 mindset and think, "How could that have happened?" because we all like to imagine that if we were born in those times we would have been enlightened enough, advanced enough to see that treating people differently because they are a different color, speak a different language, pray to a different god is wrong. We would have been able to be who we are NOW even THEN.
Sure. What ever helps you sleep at night.
I have a friend who thinks I hate our founding fathers because I like to point out that they weren't perfect. They owned slaves after all. They didn't think women were entitled to vote. They really thought only white men who owned land were worthy of those rights that all men are entitled to. But I always agree with him that they were products of their time. And in their time that was the held belief. Would I have felt differently if I was born in that time period? If I was Martha Washington would I think that owning slaves and not being able to vote was great? I can say, of course not! I can stomp and rail and say I know better than that, we all know better than that! But I'm not so sure. See, we are all products of our raising. And unless someone in there plants the seed that something is wrong, we don't know.
Like the kids in my history class who at 18, 19 years old were first exposed to the idea that maybe the Italian working for the Spaniards was a bad guy. Or my 19 year old self being exposed to the idea that people actually thought the Spaniards were the good guys and the Natives were the bad guys. And what does that mean? Maybe the truth is complicated? And messy? And someplace in between?
I don't have a huge dose of white man's guilt. I will admit it right now. I find the history to be fascinating but it has nothing to do with me. As in, I wasn't there so I am not going to feel guilty over what people who happen to share my skin coloring did in the past. My family history is such that we are pretty sure my great-grandmother on my mother's side was Native American but we have no idea what tribe as she was passing as white and the only way my mother came across the idea that she was Native was from derisive comments from other family members. My father's side we kind of suspect was passing as well. Just from their physical appearance and looking at the members of the Klamath Falls tribe out here where his family is from. But we don't know for sure.
My ancestors didn't own slaves as far as we know. Not because they were abolitionists who realized that it was wrong but because they lived in the wrong part of the country for it and were too poor. You want to see how opinions on race change? My grandmother saw her first black person when she was in her early 20s and he was robbing her so you can imagine how that formed her opinions. When she first met my best friend and spent time with her she said, "She's very nice for a darkie." A few years later she had a picture of the both of us on her dresser in the nursing home and would proudly tell everyone that those were her grand daughters. Does that mean that I shouldn't say that I loved my grandmother? Because she started out as a pretty solid racist? Or that I was proud of her because she realized in the end that people shouldn't be judged by color? Or should I just understand that that is how it works. When we know better, we do better.
So good for you, you don't celebrate Columbus Day because he was a douchebag. Or good for you, you celebrate Columbus Day because it's a good excuse to eat Italian food and drink wine. I'm not going to judge you either way. I'm also not really going to get in to big debates at Thanksgiving on the same subject. Just so you know. I will be eating my turkey, enjoying my family and being thankful that I live in a time and place where I can judge you over what you do today, not over what your ancestors did. And as for Columbus Day? Well I can sum it up with this....
Seriously, Balloons you can ride in!