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Columbus Day

Columbus Day is an American holiday, commemorating the date of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World.

It was first celebrated by Italians in San Francisco in 1869, following on the heels of celebrations in New York City. The first state celebration was in Colorado in 1905, and in 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set aside Columbus Day as holiday in the United States. Since 1971, the holiday has been commemorated in the US on the second Monday in October.

Schools are usually closed on Columbus Day, although it is not universally recognized by all American employers as a day off from work.

The date of Columbus's arrival in the Americas is celebrated in Mexico (and in some Latino communities in the USA as the Dia de la Raza ("day of the race"), commemorating the first encounters of Europe and the Americas which would produce the new Mestizo race.

By contrast, many Native American activists within the United States find the holiday offensive on the grounds that it honors a person which opened the door to European colonization and exploitation of native peoples. This has caused a persistent controversy between Native Americans and Italian-Americans. In response to this controversy, many communities, such as Berkeley, California have renamed the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Some have argued that the responsibility of contemporary governments and their citizens for allegedly ongoing acts of genocide against Native Americans are masked by positive Columbus myths and celebrations. These critics argue that a particular understanding of the legacy of Columbus has been used to legitimize their actions, and it is this misuse of history that must be exposed. Thus, Ward Churchill (an associate professor of Native American Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a leader of the American Indian Movement), has argued that

Very high on the list of those expressions of non-indigenous sensibility which contribute to the perpetuation of genocidal policies against Indians are the annual Columbus Day celebration, events in which it is baldly asserted that the process, events, and circumstances described above are, at best, either acceptable or unimportant. More often, the sentiments expressed by the participants are, quite frankly, that the fate of Native America embodied in Columbus and the Columbian legacy is a matter to be openly and enthusiastically applauded as an unrivaled "boon to all mankind." Undeniably, the situation of American Indians will not -- in fact cannot -- change for the better so long as such attitudes are deemed socially acceptable by the mainstream populace. Hence, such celebrations as Columbus Day must be stopped. (in "Bringing the Law Back Home")
The claim made here is that certain myths about Columbus, and celebrations of Columbus, make it easier for people today to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, or the actions of their governments.

See also: Christopher Columbus

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