WASHINGTON DC —
The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy.
October 12 is significant as the date explorer Christopher Columbus landed in what became known as the New World. But many within the Italian American community also celebrate Columbus Day because Columbus was Italian. John Viola, president of the national Italian American foundation, said the significance of the holiday is varied.
“It's an opportunity and holiday that we are able to celebrate what we've contributed to this country, to celebrate our history of our ancestors. I think for the rest of the country, Columbus Day is a vehicle to celebrate this nation of immigrants," said Viola.
Although some think Columbus was a great explorer, others are offended by his legacy. Joe Genetin-Pilawa, history professor at George Mason University, said Columbus enslaved many of the natives he encountered. Hundreds of thousands more died of diseases introduced by the European visitors.
“Within 10 years of the initial landfall in 1492, so by 1502, we estimated that the Taino, the native people who lived in the Bahamas, the population dropped from approximately a million to 500," Genetin-Pilawa told VOA via Skype.
Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians, said the history of Columbus is distorted.
"It's always been questionable in terms of native people's tribe communities and how we look to what was written by non-native people for a non-native audience,” he said.
David Silverman, history professor at George Washington University, said the whole story should be told.
"I don't think you need to focus on one aspect of his past and to neglect the other. You bring them both together and so that he becomes a three dimensional figure," said Silverman.
Some say the name of the holiday should be officially changed to Indigenous People's Day, while others say Native Americans should find a different day to celebrate their heritage.