Letter: Respect the explorer

Re: “Take back Columbus Day” (Oct. 11).

This weekend, as millions of Americans celebrated Columbus Day, Michael Eagleman Honhongva added a helpful perspective to our observance of the holiday, noting the resilience of indigenous peoples in the face of the oppression and catastrophic diseases that were spawned, at least in part, by Columbus’s arrival in the New World. It is unfortunate that his column degenerated into a closed-minded condemnation of a man with a complicated legacy: Christopher Columbus.

Honhongva spends a good part of his column attacking a straw man. I think he would be hard pressed to find anyone who has gone through American schooling over the past 15 years and actually been instructed that Christopher Columbus discovered America. I, for one, learned, up to and through a history course at Yale, that, while Columbus may have had nothing to do with American civilization, he did initiate a period of prevailing contact between both sides of the Atlantic. That is a feat worthy of commemorating, for better or for worse.

Honhongva also seems unaware that Columbus Day has special meaning for the 18 million Italian Americans in this country. We Italian Americans commemorate not only Columbus’s momentous arrival in San Salvador, but the many subsequent contributions that the Italian peninsula and its people have made to life in the New World. This past Sunday, if Honhongva traveled 10 minutes from Yale’s campus to Hamden, he would have seen firsthand one of many joyous celebrations of ethnic identity that took place across the country this weekend. For Honhongva to suggest that those celebrations glorify a “history of injustice and historical fallacy” is the real delusion here.

This past weekend, America observed a holiday with many complex dimensions. Next year, I hope we can all follow Honhongva’s entreaty and have an honest and complete discussion of the day without trivializing any part of the past.

Raymond Pacia

Oct. 11

The writer is a 2007 graduate of Timothy Dwight College and a former managing editor for the News.

Comments

  • RexMottram08

    Where is Shakespeare among the Aztecs?

  • ldffly

    None of us should affirm the awful consequences for the native peoples of the western hemisphere in relation to Columbus’s arrival. Neither should we continue flattering ourselves that this generation finally took a great honor away from Columbus. Earlier generations, too, were measured and accurate in estimating the significance of Columbus.

    On the matter of “Columbus discovering America,” I have my great grandfather’s 8th grade history book. He attended 8th grade in Wapello, Louisa County, Iowa, an out of the way place. The book is entitled “A Brief History of the United States,” in the Barnes Historical Series, written by Joel Dorman Steele and Esther Baker Steele, published by A.S. Barnes and Co., 1885. On page 9, the authors speculate that Chinese might have hit the west coast of the current US. The matter of the discovery of the US by Europeans is admitted (on pages 15-16) to have occurred prior to Columbus. The authors give some credence to accounts that the Northmen were here well before Columbus. In their words, “Admitting, however, the claims of the Northmen, the fact is barren of all results.” They then contend that no permanent settlements were erected and even the fact of their discovery was not passed on to later generations. For these writers, Columbus’s arrival is simply the marker for the beginning of the modern history of the western hemisphere.

  • YaleMom

    Mr. Mottram: You seem to be confused! Shakespeare was a British guy. Columbus didn’t know him, I’m pretty sure. You need to hit the books harder, kiddo! :)

  • Prof3

    I think we all need to take ourselves even more seriously.