notes on Columbus Day, jokes, and patronizing defeat

whenever we went to the beach growing up, my father would stake out an empty spot on the sand and state authoritatively in a faked spanish accent “I claim this land in the name of Spain”. we went to the beach a lot during the summer, so I heard this joke countless times to the point that it is ingrained in my very core.

this was part of my childhood introduction to the history of colonization. an everyday joke. a joke that normativizes and glosses over the violence [genocide] of land-claiming and nationalist expansion.


in elementary school, I learned an absurd amount of rhymes about Christopher Columbus. more normative claims.

we had a whole unit each year learning about Columbus around Columbus day.

The only real criticism of Columbus himself from these mini history units was that he intended to find India.

Again, a joke. we can only make jokes. One horror of history is our ability to gloss over suffering with jokes. the west is so good at this.


I grew up in a fairly liberal, predominantly white town outside of Boston.

our town symbol/high school mascot is a native american. the symbol itself us drawn from a statue made in the early 20th century, after the original population and name for our town was just a memory. I have not heard much criticism of this fact.

the neighboring fairly liberal, predominantly white town also has a native american tribe as a town symbol/mascot, also relatively unquestioned.

That football team in Washington DC and that baseball team in Ohio also persist despite criticisms, so I don’t have much hope even for small ‘liberal’ towns to clean up their act


American Monday holidays generally have the tendency to be ignored in their purposes. We generally laze off for a three day weekend/take advantage of sales.

Primarily, we ignore the basis of the very holiday. National holidays mostly have the effect of being patronizing defeats of whoever it is meant to ‘honor’. Martin Luther King Jr Day especially gets white-washed. Labor Day all but forgets those who have fought for better working conditions. et cetera.

but Columbus Day is a bit different. There is no honor in it, only the recriminations painted over and over again.

while other holidays diminish the greatness they patronize, this holiday upholds more honor than is owed.

Columbus Day itself is a 20th-century phenomena established as a patronizing holiday for Italian Americans, that origin itself is often forgotten by most Americans. Patronizing defeat.


some have moved for this holiday to be rebranded as ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’ which seems a lot better,

but not enough since again, we would have the day off and collectively forget its very meaning


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