Día de la Raza

Tomorrow, October 17, is a national holiday in Colombia, which means hooray! No work. Día de la Raza, or Day of the Races/Day of Ethnicity, is the Colombian celebration of Christopher Columbus Day. Before 1983 it was celebrated on the second Monday in October, as in the US, but a law changed it to move to the following Monday.

Actually, in schools around Colombia, the whole preceding week as well as the following Monday are vacation days, and maybe for some work places as well. Schools in Colombia celebrate Día de la Raza in much in the same way as in the US, with skits depicting the discovery of the Americas, but here, at least in the school where I worked, we also talked about different races and groups of people.

Spain and almost all Latin American Countries celebrate some version of Columbus Day or Día de la Raza. Some call it Día de la Hispanidad (Hispanic Day), others Día de Descubrimiento (Discovery Day), Día Panamericano (Pan-American Day), and Día de la Liberación, de la Identidad y de la Interculturalidad (Liberation, Identity, and Intercultural Day), among many other names. Although they have different names, they are all based on the discovery of the Americas and the formation of various races from that point on.

Colombia’s Día de la Raza was first created in 1913 by Faustino Rodríguez-San Pedro, who at that time was the president of the Ibero-American Union. He wanted to form a union between Latin America and Spain by celebrating a holiday and bringing together all Spanish-speaking nations and cultures.

Celebrating Christopher Columbus Day is quite a controversial topic. The Colombia version of Día de la Raza is a bit different from the US version because it focuses not on Christopher Columbus but on the discovery of the Americas and formation of the American countries and peoples. However, both holidays revere a man who captured natives for slaves, slaughtered indigenous people, stole, and brought awful diseases such as smallpox that killed millions of native people.

If Christopher Columbus had come upon land that was inhabited by white settlers and then killed and enslaved them, we would very doubtfully celebrate him as a great man but instead condemn him as a murderer and oppressor. However, we tend to overlook the injustices and deem such acts acceptable, so much so that we (the people of the Americas) even have a holiday for this man.

By commemorating Christopher Columbus, a man who did make an important discovery (in that he discovered the Americas for Europe, not that he was actually the first to find this land) but who also murdered and enslaved people, is a huge insult to indigenous peoples everywhere.

It’s always nice having a holiday from work, but it is important to remember that we have these holidays for a reason, and we need to make sure we have them for the right reasons. We need to take away focus from Christopher Columbus and not teach our children that he was this great man. I think that Spanish-speaking countries are a little closer than the US is to having the right idea of celebrating various peoples and cultures and races that have formed in the Americas since 1492, but we all need to remember the indigenous roots of the Americas and that they were truly the founders of the Americas, not Columbus.

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3 thoughts on “Día de la Raza

  1. Oy vey. I’m not going to laud Columbus as a saint or anything, and I don’t see a point in celebrating Columbus Day (why not celebrate Leif Ericson Day?), but you’re clearly applying 20th century morality on a 15th century figure, and your criticisms reek of left-wing postcolonial ideology. Co-discovery and interaction between whites and indigenous American populations was inevitable given Western technological advancement, and such engagement would clearly favor the (technologically) dominant race. Such encounters, no matter how benevolent, would inevitably lead to the sharing of ravaging diseases and violence. One need only see the history of English colonialism in the mid-Atlantic and New England to see how even initial positive interactions descended into mutual mistrust and violence once populations exploded and there began a truer competition for resources. History clearly teaches us that domination, subjugation, and war are the norms of interactions between adjacent peoples — not the exception.

    My argument is simply this: There was nothing truly special about Columbus; he was simply a natural, fated manifestation of 15th century Euro-Latin-Catholic culture and historical progression. Judging Columbus and his contemporaries for their morality and intercultural insensitivities makes about as much sense as judging chimpanzees for their vulgar grooming and sexual habits. One can only hope we continue to evolve as a species.

    • I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying, but I’m just not sure what your point is, because you are basically making the same point that I made in my post. It doesn’t matter that discovery and subjugation were inevitable and that someone had to do it. The point is that Columbus is the one who did it and we shouldn’t honor him for the things he did, regardless of the fact that he was a product of his time; I don’t think that should be an excuse for the things he did. And my main point was simply that I like Colombia’s Día de la Raza because it has a different focus than that of Columbus Day, and I like that.

    • @Andrew
      This post and blog have yet to touch on politics so it seems unnecessary to condemn the author’s ideas as “reeking of left-wing postcolonial ideology”.

      Such extremist, hateful behavior was acceptable maybe 60 to 30 years ago, but has become outdated. At least in 21st century countries.

      It’s worth noting that historically, the Spaniard’s very first advances into Latin America were with the purpose of profit, which yielded dominance: Looting for gold, resources, women and slaves.
      Not very benevolent.

      This is not a natural outcome. Nor does it make it justifiable given the time period. Does that make the atrocities committed by History’s Tyrants a simple byproduct of their time and society and unquestionable? The Holocaust, the Colombian Falsos Positivos, 9/11?

      We’re not evolving as a species, but as a society. Politics and premeditated war are not natural.

      While there is a point to “society accepted that in their time”, this post seems to make a point of stating that if looking at actual history, this person should not be celebrated. Even if his behavior were considered “natural”, we should now know better than to celebrate his name.

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