Today Is Columbus Day – Except Where It Isn’t

I had the good fortune to live in San Francisco when it was affordable.

But affordable or otherwise, when you live in San Francisco, you have at least some awareness of what a big deal the second Monday in October is:

It’s Columbus Day.

Except it isn’t.

In San Francisco it’s no longer known as Columbus Day. 

It’s now known as Indigenous Peoples Day and Italian American Heritage Day, and the dual celebration today – Monday, October 11 – was preceded by this yesterday:

October 11 is a San Francisco city and county Holiday.

October 11 is not a California state holiday.

October 11 is very confusing.

According to this 2021 article:

In California, Indigenous Peoples Day and Italian American Heritage Day are also celebrated in Santa Barbara and Sacramento, though it’s not a city and county holiday in either.  The cities of Berkley, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo and South Lake Tahoe observe only Indigenous Peoples Day.

The state of California does not observe Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day or Italian American Heritage Day as a state holiday.

So if you, for example, live in San Francisco and you’re a city or county employee, it’s a holiday.

But if you’re a state employee, no holiday for you.

If you’re a federal employee, October 11 is a holiday and it is called “Columbus Day.”  According to this website:

“All non-essential federal government offices are closed on Columbus Day, and all federal employees are paid even if they receive the day off.”

And how about where you live?  Here’s a map by states, though it doesn’t whittle it down to individual counties or cities or – for all I know – neighborhoods:

The focus of Columbus Day is – was – Italian-born explorer Christopher Columbus’ arrival in what we now call the Americas in 1492.  

In my online research I came across this scholarly paper written in 2003:

The paper begins by saying,

“On October 12, 1492 Christopher Columbus set foot upon one of the Bahamas.  Europe’s Age of Exploration had begun…the voyages of Columbus set into motion a series of historical events that resulted in the exploration of a new world.  And therefore he has captured the imagination of mankind and became a metaphor for discovery, adventure, bravery, daring, perseverance and much more.”

Columbus has also become a metaphor for controversy.  How so?

The paper goes on to say,

“There are at least 150 Columbus memorials in the United States…”

That was 2003.

Fast forward to September 2020:

The article says, 

“At least 33 Christopher Columbus statues have been taken down or are in the process of being removed since the renewed Black Lives Matter protests began in late spring, according to a count of local reports.”

“Protests have targeted Columbus because he is accused of the genocide of indigenous people.  A 2019 study published in the journal Quarterly Science Review estimated that between 1492 and 1600, about 55 million people in the Americas died.”

And not all of those 33 Columbus statues were peacefully and quietly removed by local authorities, according to this article:

“In St. Paul, demonstrators toppled a ten-foot-tall statue that stood in front of the Minnesota state capitol.  In Richmond, protesters pulled down an eight-foot-tall statue in Byrd Park, carrying it about 200 yards before setting it on fire and throwing it into the nearby Fountain Lake.  And, around 12:30am Wednesday, police in Boston received a report that a marble statue of the Italian explorer and colonizer had lost its head.”

And it isn’t just statues – the Columbus controversy conversation has extended to places named for Columbus, including this one:

And how about our nation’s capital, Washington, DC – the DC standing for “District of Columbia”?

I don’t know how far we, the people, will go in the Columbus conversation.

I do know this irony:  Columbus wasn’t on a journey to discover a “New World,” as North, Central and South America came to be called.  Instead, according to History.com:

“Columbus intended to chart a western sea route to China, India and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia.  Instead, on October 12, 1492, he landed in the Bahamas, becoming the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings established colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland during the 10th century.”

That new sea route Columbus was seeking would increase trade, and that meant increased wealth. 

Increasing wealth by exploiting local resources – from precious metals to people – was and is the primary reason that humans have always ventured into the unknown.

Across oceans, like Columbus; across land masses, like Lewis and Clark; and now, into outer space, as this writer suggested almost 30 years ago:

“Space colonization means much more than Antarctic-style research habitats on the moon or other planets for an elite group of astronauts.  Space can be colonized and provide Earth with the equivalent of the New World that Columbus ‘discovered’ in the 15th century.”

Humans have always explored – and exploited – and we always will.

Perhaps someday we’ll have holidays named after these outer space explorers:

Richard Branson/Virgin Galactica Day:

Jeff Bezos/Blue Origin Day:

Elon Musk/SpaceX Day:

Or, perhaps not…

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