Christopher Columbus XX, a descendant of the Italian explorer, makes note of the shortcomings of indigenous peoples of the Americas, while defending his ancestor. He also critically notes the British role in the colonization of the New World.
As the descendant of both Christopher Columbus and Montezuma II, the Aztec emperor, it is only natural that I would be interested in the debate over Columbus’ legacy in America.
History has some truly evil people. Columbus is certainly not one of them. Most often, history is not made up of perfect people and evil ones, but of complex people who must be understood in context.
What is happening at the hands of Columbus’ detractors is political, not historical. As his direct descendant and namesake, I should know.
Two cultures meeting for the first time in 1492 was no easy thing, but blaming Columbus for everything that went wrong hides the truth about him and about those who followed him. It also obscures the great things that the countries of the American hemisphere have accomplished.
What is lacking in the anti-Columbus narrative is any sense of history or of nuance.
Columbus did something incredible reaching the Bahamas on board three small ships. The fleet’s caravels were not warships but explorer vessels. He brought together two continents that didn’t know of one another’s existence. For the first time in history, the world acquired a truly global perspective.
We usually forget that people in the Middle Ages were deeply religious, much more than we are. This was certainly true of Columbus. Faith was his primary motivation.
Those who now question Columbus conveniently ignore the fact that slavery, cannibalism, warfare and even human sacrifice all existed in the Americas before he even sailed.
Even so, some today blame Columbus for everything they dislike in U.S. history, despite the ample evidence that he was a moderating force on his men, and the fact that he sought to keep good manners and friendly relations with Native Americans.
These same people blame him for the deaths of Native Americans when the overwhelming majority of those deaths were due to disease, caused by their different degree of immunity compared with the Europeans.
Blaming Columbus does his legacy a terrible injustice, but it does something else, too. It focuses anger on one man and on the wrong man.
The tactic of those who hate Columbus are resurrecting Anglo-supremacist propaganda that paints all who sailed under the Spanish flag — or were Hispanic — as violent and untrustworthy. They hated not just Catholics in general but Columbus in particular because he was the Catholic hero in U.S. history. In English-speaking countries, British explorers tend to be treated far better than Spanish ones.
Today, Americans learn little to nothing of English atrocities in America, while Columbus — who sailed under Spain’s flag and never actually set foot on the territory of the United States — is blamed for every mistake any Spaniard or Portuguese explorer or colonist ever made — and any that the British or Americans made as well.
Few schoolchildren in this country will ever learn that Spain’s kings quickly gave Spanish citizenship to Native Americans and began restricting enslavement of Native Americans, after a theological debate. Spain began a moral revolution when slavery was accepted by the rest of the European countries. Meanwhile, Spain built universities to educate the Indians and churches to minister to their spiritual needs.
Few in school today will learn that the Spanish worked to integrate with Native Americans, while the British and the Americans tended to have much more combative relationships with them and often forced them onto small reservations. Spain never founded any reservation.
Many scholars have noted that Spain’s laws and actions regarding Native Americans were superior to those of the British and often even the Americans.
But the bias continues. California provides a case in point. Contrary to the popular schoolbook history, it was not the padres and the missions the Spanish founded that caused the collapse of the Native American population. Rather, it was the white Americans who, after gold was discovered, decimated the population from 150,000 to 30,000, murdering four in 10 of those who died after 1845.
Thank you Christopher Columbus. At least some of us will continue to recognize your courage on this, your annual day.