By Arthur H Gunther III
The date on this piece tells it all — it is Columbus Day, a national holiday in the good, old US of A, but not for everyone. As I write this shortly after 7:30 a.m. in the Northeast, the storm troops that are the landscapers everyone seems to have are already revving leaf blowers, following 36-inch deck lawnmowers and whacking weeds. No respite for these men, who make little to begin with and so, a “holiday” is another opportunity to put a few dollars in the wallet, however short a time it remains there.
When I was a newspaperman, we published every day of the year, so there were Columbus Days, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and whatever other “holidays” when we stiffs took turns at the helm or wherever we were needed. That was usually OK, once we were able to wrench ourselves from family and get through the work door, for the newsroom, the composing room, the pressroom and circulation all had captive workers for the day, and in that we shared time. Besides, giving birth is what a daily newspaper does, and while I would or could never compare the effort to a woman’s magical trip through pain and delivery, bringing information to print was often exhilarating.
Many work tColumbus Day and other “holidays” — police, firefighters (paid and volunteer), those in industry and commerce that cannot shut down for a day. And that isn’t just in the US. Many countries in the New World and elsewhere officially celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, Oct. 12, 1492. In the US, Columbus day is a federal holiday, so it becomes part of a three-day weekend as the second Monday in October. This year it just happens to be Oct. 12. The long weekend probably lessens the importance to Americans, though.
There is even controversy within the day since Americans of Italian descent link it to a native son, a reasonable idea, but some others of any ethnic background are offended because, as happened after most exploration in the New World, indigenous peoples were enslaved, abused, pushed off their land and introduced to European disease.
Some communities prefer “Indigenous People’s Day,” honoring Native Americans as an alternative. South Dakota renamed Columbus Day Native American Day in 1990.
The argument continues that “progress,” the very growth that has provided opportunity for so many others “enslaved” by old societies, lack of opportunity, pogroms, prejudice, etc., would not have been possible without Columbus or Verrazzano or any of the other explorers.
Surely no progress moves forth in this faulted world of ours without grief to someone. But the day is long past due when America must recognize Native Americans and learn from their culture, which respected the ecology and which often offered wisdom and fairness unseen in the “progressive” world. The sin of land-grabbing, the bulldozer push to siub-standard reservations, the deliberate late-1800s attempts to “re-educate” Indians as whites must have atonement.
If karma is a force, some day the debt will be addressed, the wrongs, too, and as part of that, a workman’s holiday called Columbus Day will be recognized for the achievement of all — European, Asian, the Americas and most certainly Native Americans. Until then there will be no holiday for all, whether you have to work on it or not.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org