About 50 members of the Yale community joined together at the Women’s Table last night to encourage students to “Rethink Columbus Day.”

The Association of Native Americans at Yale, in conjunction with the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, the Yale African Students Alliance and several other ethnic groups, sponsored a vigil on the eve of Columbus Day to raise awareness of the oppression of peoples throughout the world.

Students gave speeches about the failure to teach about the dark side of American history and oppression and sang African American spirituals and songs from the Dakota tribe. Participants also lit candles and marched in a loop through Old Campus and back to their Cross Campus starting point.

The candlelight vigil is an annual event that in the past was put on by just ANAAY and MEChA. It originated in protest of America’s celebration of Columbus Day.

Student speakers, such as Irene Garza ’02, compared Columbus to Hitler, arguing that both are responsible for genocide.

“Each thought he was going to bring fountains of youth and purity and instead he brought rivers of blood,” Garza said about Columbus and Hitler.

In past years, the primary objective of the vigil has been raising awareness of the way conquistadors treated indigenous peoples in the Americas. But this year organizers placed a greater emphasis on multiculturalism and issues of current oppression throughout the world.

“There were more references to the concept of having a united fate among all ethnicities this year,” said John Kenneth Johnson ’03, Afro-American Cultural Center public relations coordinator.

The multicultural nature of this year’s vigil stems from student responses to the vigil in past years. Last year, students yelled obscenities and degrading comments at ANAAY and MEChA members during the vigil, Johnson said.

Even this year, two students who were not part of the demonstration took candles from the Women’s Table when the participants walked through Old Campus, participants said.

Participants said they attribute these acts of disrespect to misconceptions on the part of the larger community.

“The vigil is often misunderstood as militant when, in fact, the goal is to bring awareness,” participant Wizipan Garriott ’03 said.

Johnson said he hoped the event would attract more attention this year because the multicultural theme directly affects a larger number of people.

Johnson added a goal of the vigil was to emphasize the continual practice of oppression of native peoples.

“People have been exploited, subjugated and marginalized in the same tradition of Christopher Columbus’ legacy,” he said.

Johnson included in Columbus’ tradition the enslavement of Africans and the current oppression of indigenous people in North and South America as well as in Asia.

Quotes chalked on Old Campus walkways and in front of Sterling Memorial Library this weekend underscore the history of oppression in America that event organizers were trying to relate.

“The only secret in the world is the history you don’t know,” read one chalking.

Another goal of the vigil and the chalkings was to make people aware that they do not know the whole story of America’s history, participant Francisco Lopez ’02 said.

Participant Michael Montano ’03 said, “We’re just trying to express this in terms that people on campus can understand.”