Why Columbus Day Is One of the Most Controversial Holidays in America

For some, Christopher Columbus is a figure of pride. For others, he is a symbol of racism and discrimination. Read on to learn more.

Columbus day, world map with compassTheera Disayarat/Shutterstock

Columbus Day has been a very divisive holiday in the United States for some time now, and that shows no signs of changing any time soon. The explorer from the 15th century was from Genoa, Italy, which is why many Italians cling to him and his accomplishments with pride. Many Italian-Americans are adamant about keeping the holiday as they feel it is a day for them to celebrate their heritage, their place in this country, and their contributions to America while recognizing their ancestors’ own struggles as immigrants.

Those who are in favor of abolishing Columbus Day or changing the name to Indigenous People’s Day say it has nothing to do with a lack of respect for Italians and everything to do with the way this particular man treated the native people of the so-called “new world.” While Columbus accomplished much for the Spanish crown on his expeditions, he is also responsible for crimes against humanity that can’t be overlooked. Slavery and physical brutality were part of daily life during Columbus’s colonization of the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola. Starvation and disease were also widespread thanks to the horrible working conditions he and his crew provided for the natives. These facts are what drove a group of anti-Columbus protesters to cover the hands of a statue of the explorer in New York City with red paint last year, to illustrate the point that he is a figure stained with blood. (All of this aside, Columbus was also actually not the first person to discover America. The Vikings beat him to it several hundred years earlier.) Find out about famous moments in history that actually didn’t happen.

Four states and many cities have abandoned Columbus Day and replaced it with Indigenous People’s Day to honor the Native Americans who fell victim to these tragedies instead. On this new holiday, people celebrate the culture of indigenous Americans (those who lived here before Europeans came to colonize). However, Columbus Day still remains a federal holiday. Whether that will change is still yet to be seen. In the meantime, catch up on these other facts you probably didn’t know about Christopher Columbus.

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Taylor Markarian
Taylor Markarian is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest's Culture, Advice, Travel and Pets beats. She is also a music journalist who has contributed to Alternative Press, Loudwire, Revolver, Kerrang! and more. Markarian is the author of the book, 'From the Basement: A History of Emo Music and How It Changed Society', which analyzes the evolution of punk and mental health. She holds a degree in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College.