Should Ward Churchill protest Christmas & Easter?
Writing about Christopher Columbus and the controversy over our national holiday celebrating his voyage to the Bahamas in 1492 is, at best, confusing. First of all, there’s the problem of his name: He went by the name: Cristobal Colon, not Christopher Columbus.
Next, was he Italian or Spanish? Italian scholars contend Cristoforo Colombo was born near Genoa, the son of Domenico Colombo. But that was before Italy was formed. Even so, that’s Italian enough for most Italian-Americans to celebrate Columbus as a Son of Italy. Yet some scholars contend his people were Spaniards who lived near Genoa, but returned to Spain, resuming the original family name of Colon.
Also, was he a Christian or a Jew? During the Spanish Inquisition, Colon was a spelling used by Jews who converted or appeared to convert to Christianity. So, if Colon was a Jew, was he a Converso – an actual convert or was he a Marrano – one who pretends conversion while remaining inwardly Jewish? Some Spanish scholars argue Colon was actually born near Barcelona, the son of Domenico Colon, a wood trader, and a Jewish woman named Susanana Fontanarossa – another Jewish name.
What we do know is that “Columbus” sailed for Spain, not Italy, and that he could neither speak nor write Italian. He was, however, fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and he wrote the marginal notes and dates on his charts in Hebrew.
Some, but not all, Native Americans abhor Columbus Day celebrations. In fact, some Native Americans and that wannabe Native American, Ward Churchill, have actually obstructed the conduct of Denver’s Columbus Day parade. Since 1992, what used to be a ho-hum parade of floats bearing older Italian-Americans waving flags, has been so violently confronted by Ward Churchill and his ilk that Denver Mayor, John Hickenlooper, cites the expense of police protection as a reason for asking Denver’s Italian-Americans to forget their annual parade and do something else on Columbus Day.
But, considering Denver’s four days and nights of Cinco de Mayo celebrations, Hickenlooper has painted himself into a corner. The policing costs of four nights of bumper-to-bumper cruising on Denver’s Federal Avenue dwarf the costs of protecting a three-hour Columbus Day parade conducted in downtown Denver in daylight.
Yet the core issue in Denver is balancing the 1st Amendment rights between Italian-Americans who want to express pride in being Italian-Americans and Native Americans who contend that Columbus and the sailors he left behind were villains.
Then, there’s a problem with the term “Native American” which suggests the people Columbus mistakenly called “Indians” were the first to occupy what we call the Americas. Some anthropologists contend this land was occupied by ancient peoples who were eliminated after our so-called Native Americans crossed the now-submerged land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Truth be known, Native Americans or Indians are more accurately called by their tribal names such as Kiowa or Caddo or Cherokee or Sioux, etc.
But now, while we are being sensitive to the nuances of names, religions, places of origin and who did what to whom, what about the French? It must be so humiliating for the French Consul-General in Denver to endure those fours nights and days taken to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
For those who skipped Spanish 101, that was May 5, 1862, when 2,000 to 4,000 untrained Mexicans defeated some 6,500 well-trained French troops at the Battle of Puebla and kicked the French out of Mexico and the Americas. Have we no compassion for the French?
That said, the real problem with the Columbus Day protests is that they target Italian-Americans rather than Spanish-Americans. After all, it was the Spanish Conquistadores: Hernando Cortez and Francisco Pizarro who led the rape, pillage, murder and exploitation of the peoples of Mexico, Central and South America. By comparison, Columbus and his sailors were wimps.
Unfortunately for Ward Churchill and his group, there are no special Spanish-American holidays to protest. Unless, of course, they want to consider Christmas and Easter.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today and self-described “recovering lawyer and philosopher,” is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2005. William Hamilton.