Columbus was never my hero
By David Bakish

For as many years as I can remember, I have resisted any celebration of Columbus Day.

Christopher Columbus, an Italian, sailed with the financial support of the Spanish monarchy, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The mission, with three ships, was to find the best trade route to the riches of the Far East, including India.

Columbus went in exactly the opposite direction, west instead of east, and was given credit by my grade school teachers in rural Pennsylvania and everywhere else for “discovering” America. I could not understand how anyone could be given credit for discovering a land already occupied.

All across America, there were tribes of people with functioning societies. A white man and his crew accepted the help of the residents, then treated them as inferior (non-Christian) human beings. The explorers shipped “savages” back to Spain to examine them like some prize horses.

Over the centuries, the white settlers made and broke treaties with each and every tribe of non-white residents the settlers labeled Indians. Had Columbus sailed in the right direction, the only people called Indians today would be residents of India.

At the same time that Columbus was said to have discovered America — 1492 — his Spanish sponsors were conducting the infamous Spanish Inquisition, forcing non-Christian citizens, Jews and Moors, to convert with sincerity, leave the country or be burnt at the stake.

Both sides of my family were forced out of Spain. The Ottoman Empire, Muslims, welcomed the Jews where they lived for many centuries. In Turkey and Bulgaria, my families spoke the local language, as well as Ladino, Judeo-Spanish and brought Ladino to America in the 1920s. Other Sephardim, Spanish Jews, settled in Middle Eastern countries where they lost their Spanish and spoke Arabic, Persian, or other languages of their adopted countries.

I never thought any large numbers of Americans might object to honoring Christopher Columbus to the point of taking down his statue at what has been Columbus Circle in the center of Manhattan. Does it make much difference after such a long time?

I think it’s more meaningful to take down monuments to the slave trade: monuments honoring the generals and politicians who tried to preserve slavery and destroy the unity of the United States, and take down the shameful flying of the pro-slavery Confederate flag.

David Bakish


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