Walking along Loomis for dinner* at Davanti Enoteca (1359 W Taylor St), an exceptional Italian restaurant in Little Italy, I stopped at the statue of Columbus in Arrigo Park. This park is a few blocks north of Taylor, where my great grandparents, who came over on the boat from Columbus’ hometown of Genoa, owned a pharmacy. It was not surprising to see Columbus in this part of town. Italian-Americans are proud of this guy, though many who argue that Columbus Day should abolished have a hard time understanding why, exactly, this person is worthy of anything other than contempt.

In an effort to do right by those who’ve suffered at the hands of invaders, Seattle has re-named Columbus Day. It’s now Indigenous Peoples day. In a recent meeting in Seattle, a promoter of this renamed holiday, Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp, proclaims “No one discovered Seattle.” Sharp’s statement seems inaccurate.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no indigenous people on this continent. My Italian forbears came across the Atlantic; the Squamish and other peoples in the Washington/BC area probably came across what is now the Bering Strait. To the best of current knowledge, we all came out of Africa. So, in a sense, I want to give President Sharp even more credit than she’s asking for: her forbears, literally, discovered the Seattle area.

Last summer, we toured the British Columbia area and were glad to see that road signs are posted that use both the English and Squamish names for locations. That is a wonderful and subtle way to honor the people who lived on this continent for centuries before Columbus landed.

Should there be a holiday to honor the people we call “indigenous? Of course! I would, however, much prefer the Canadian term “First Nations,” as this more accurately reflects the status of these people. “Indigenous people” is inaccurate, as is “Indians,” which arises, of course, from Columbus’ misunderstanding of where the heck he’d actually landed.

It’s undeniable that much evil arose from the European conquest of the Americas. Columbus himself is reported to have enslaved and brutalized the inhabitants of the New World…which was really only “new” to Europeans.

Columbus – like fellow Italians DaVinci and Galileo – embodied the Renaissance push for discovery and knowledge, and for that reason I admire him, while recognizing his tremendous flaws and wrongdoing.

Columbus (and Cortez and, while we’re at it, Lewis and Clark) set in motion a series of events that spelled the end of many First Nation’s people. Nonetheless, these Europeans and Americans were bold adventurers, people who expanded the scope of human understanding and made us who we are today.

So is the Columbian legacy worthy of recognition – and can Columbus Day be defended on any grounds? That’s the question I’m wrestling with today.

*Obligatory food reference

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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