October 12, 2001

Christopher Columbus Day - Remembering its Victims

By María del Sagrario Ramírez
Arizona Daily Wildcat

October 10, 1997

Peeking over the shoulder of my 8-year-old son, Cezar, as he was coloring at the kitchen table, I asked him what he was doing? He said his class was learning about Christopher Columbus and how he discovered America.

At that point, I was torn between allowing my son to learn and believe Columbus was a great man and telling Cezar about the genocide of 23 million indigenous people committed by men like Columbus. It was a tough call, but I decided that my son should know both sides of history. Taking in mind that he is only 8 years old, I asked him only to ask his teacher what happened to the people that were already here in the Americas when Columbus "discovered" it.

On October 12 at the Zenith Center, a group of intertribal poets organized a Counter-Columbus Festival "in solidarity and resistance to Columbus Day." Now, at this point, many of you maybe rolling your eyes (if you haven't already), but the festival was held with the intention of providing relevant education from an indigenous point of view.

It will carry the forum of an open mic, allowing for local poets to read their work and citing the injustices that were suffered by indigenous people native to the Americas at the hands of Europeans arriving on our land. It cannot be denied that these people were brutally butchered and their government, education, and religious practices destroyed by European invaders.

The fact remains that the Olmecas occupied the Americas long before the Europeans "discovered" this land. This remarkable civilization was followed by the Zapotecas, Toltecs, Mixtecos, Anasazi, Huaztecas, Mayas and the Aztecs. These magnificent Pre-columbian civilizations had pre-dated European civilizations by 3,000 years and were highly advanced in their technologies.

These people had highly-developed systems of agriculture, engineering, medicine, astronomy and architecture, just to name a few. The Mexica Empire was thriving with beauty and brilliance far longer and with more complexity than was imagined by these robbers when they first arrived. These conquerors are no heroes, as it has historically been seen. As recently as five years ago the native population in Mexico protested the statue of Christopher Columbus in the Districto Federal of Mexico City.

Although men like Columbus, Fernando Córtez in 1518 and Francisco Pizarro in the 1520s have been hailed as great adventures and explorers, to the indigenous people, these men are murders and rapists who slaughtered millions of people in the name of conquest, wealth, and fame.

Now, I know that their actions might have been hip at the time, yet the fact remains that they not only stole land and resources from these people, but they also destroyed the identity, language and freedom of millions who were seen as barbaric and uncivilized, inferior, and unworthy of any respect. And besides, it's not hip now! All that is being asked is that there be an accurate account of who the victims were and the atrocities they suffered.

The true heroes are the ones who fought fearlessly and died to protect their land and their families. This is what the Counter-Columbus Festival represents - a remembrance and vigil of the warriors who were slaughtered and tortured; an acknowledgment of the women and children who were raped and massacred; and the recognition of the victims that continue to suffered because of the genocide committed by men like Columbus, Córtez and Pizarro.

All those of indigenous heritage continue to have their language and culture suppressed through the Eurocentric government system that wants to deny facts and history by not telling both sides of the story.

It is time that the educational system recognizes accurate accounts of 23 million people who died through disease and genocide; who were enslaved and savagely robbed of their religious freedom and cultural identity. It is time that the victims are recognized and history is discovered.

In a poem by Jimmie Durham titled "Columbus Day," he asks all of us to remember a few of the victims who died.

In a few words from this poem, he writes:

"But don't you remember Chaske, whose spine

Was crushed so quickly by Mr. Pizarro's boot?

What words did he cry into the dust?

What was the familiar name

Of the young girl who danced so gracefully

that everyone in the village sand with her-

Before Cortez's sword hacked off her arms

As she protested the burning of her sweetheart?

Greenrock woman was the name of the old lady who walked right up

And spat in Columbus's face."

Just like many of us fight for our rights today, not because we're radical revolutionaries, but because we are intelligent and conscious creatures, these people fought for their rights against a group of tyrants who wanted nothing more that what was not theirs.

Stop living in the past and start living in the present, many might say? Work within the system and achieve the American Dream? We are! Through festivals and demonstrations like this, we are using the skills and talents obtained through Euro-centric education and exercising our freedom of expression. Education has brought us the knowledge of the wrongs that have been done and these wrongs have become a white man's burden.

It is a responsibility to express our visions, sensibilities and passions and through the art of poetry and peaceful demonstrations, we can educate our people and others.

In the words of a rising poet, my friend, Jessica Jaramillo writes in "Columbus: Not `A Man of Noble and Lofty Ambitious':

"Today, I discovered you, Columbus and I

to extend the suicide, infanticide and genocide by placing my loved one's flesh

in bread dough, wells, and into the justice of poetics."

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