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October 15, 2019
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October 15, 2019

The Columbus Day conundrum – time to drop the holiday?

Posted: Tuesday, October 15, 2019. 1:48 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Yesterday, Monday, was a public and bank holiday observed as Columbus Day or Day of the Americas/Pan American Day.

Theoretically, it honors the achievements of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, who landed in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492 (by the Julian calendar; the Gregorian calendar gives the date as October 21). He had sought to prove that the world was round rather than flat, and thence be able to reach the Far East more quickly that way, only to stumble onto the “New World” and introduce a period of exchange of plants, animals, culture, human populations, and technology – but also diseases and less savoury practices.

The Yucatan Times notes that “According to his own logbook, on his first day in the New World, Columbus ordered six of the natives to be seized, writing in his journal that he believed they would be “good servants”. Throughout his years in the New World, Columbus enacted policies of forced labor in which natives were put to work for the sake of profits. Later, Columbus sent thousands of peaceful Taino “Indians” from the island of Hispaniola to Spain to be sold. Many died en route.”

Columbus’ Italian heritage is a matter of pride for Italian-Americans, but more recently countries in the Latin American sphere have turned the discussion to celebrating the achievements of the native peoples Columbus made contact with.

Mexico has renamed the Day ‘Dia de la Raza’, Day of the Race, and various other countries and Hispanic-dominant areas of the U.S. refer to it by various names including Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Day of the Americas/Pan American Day, and others referencing cultural dialogue and diversity. Their argument is that Columbus, a man known to look down on the native peoples and subjugate them in the name of Italy and his Spanish sponsors Ferdinand and Isabella, should not be remembered and taught about.

We should note that Pan American Day is observed in the U.S. for a different date and reason – April 14, and the formation of what is now known as the Organization of American States (OAS).

So is it time to no longer recognize ‘Christopher Come-bust-us,” as he was derisively referred to by Jamaica’s Mutabaruka in the song “People’s Court Part I,” in Belize?

The Holidays Act, Chapter 289, simply regulates what dates can be observed as public and bank holidays in Belize and what can be legally done and not done on those days.

The twelfth day of October is listed as both a public holiday in the first schedule and a bank holiday (meaning banks and other financial institutions must be closed) in the second schedule.

It is also one of the three holidays listed that are specifically observed on Mondays based on the day of the week in which they fall, whether on a Saturday (like this year) or Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. National Heroes’ and Benefactors Day (formerly Baron Bliss Day) and Sovereign’s/Commonwealth Day are the others; other holidays are observed on the days they fall except if on a weekend.

Theoretically, if a Government no longer wished to observe Columbus/Pan American Day, it would simply strike it off the schedules and that would be that.


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