October 12th – A Date to Celebrate?

October 12th – A Date to Celebrate?

(by: Victor Montoya)

The myth of the “White’” Man

I remember when I was an innocent child; I used to think that October 12th was the day of the Americas and that white skinned persona with a silk doublet known as Christopher Columbus was like a type of Indiana Jones. However, I started to question it when my fellow classmates would begin to change their last names, since “Mamani” would be turned into Maisman, Quispe into Quisbert and Condori into Condorset. I began to ponder the cause of such a strange metamorphosis when I found my old history and literature books. The Admiral of the Open Sea, the Viceroy of the lands of the New World, forward thinker and Governor was not from Geneva, Portugal or even Spain; he would appear in the illustrations on his knees looking towards the great sky, as if he were to thank God for continuing his life after a long and fatiguing journey. Even though he was depicted as having no metal armour, his hand was placed on the Royal Coat of Arms and on the other holding a sword with its guard and sparrow-hawk. Behind him were three floating vessels between the sky and the ocean, while in the Guanahaní Coast seemed to be a real life paradise without serpents and sins, while the copper toned natives looked on nude and fearfully confused.

My teacher had an eagle-like nose and well defined cheekbones as did the ñustas of the Inca Empire, and was the first to pass on the version of the conquerors. She would explain that Christopher Columbus would represent the civilized man, whose physical and mental shrewdness brought him to discover the mysteries of the ocean and find the peoples that lived behind in ignorance. I believed her as a parishioner would believe a priest, without knowing that they were teaching the myth of the white man at school, and that my teacher (who was very visibly indigenous) spoke in the borrowed voice of those yearning for blood and riches. What she would call Columbus Day (Día de la Raza) in reality was the day against itself, since nothing would ever be the same from that fateful October 12th, 1492 all across the Americas, from [KKK]Canada to Cabo de Hornos.

The two faces of the Conquest

Years later, after reading a comic book, I learned that Hernan Cortes through the North and Francisco Pizzaro through the south launched a campaign across the lands baptized with the name of Americo Vespucio and not that of Christopher Columbus, whom died in oblivion and without knowing that he opened the doors to the unknown continent. Some believed to have found terrestrial paradise, such as Jesuit Leon Pinelo, whom in the XVIII Century during his travels, tried to demonstrate how the Paraná, the Orinoco, the Amazon and the San Francisco were the sacred rivers that were coming from Paradise according to the scriptures.

The conquest was an inevitable event – said the teacher – because it implied the victory of civilization over barbarism. The white man would bring progress: the Bible, gunpowder, fire arms, navigation instruments, the mercantilist economy, iron, the wheel among other things; while the indigenous peoples held their traditional feathers on their heads and professed barbarous religions. However, what the teacher did not mention was the cultural and scientific flourishing of pre-Columbian civilizations, such as the calculation of the Mayan calendar – far more exact than the current Western version- that applied a special form of mathematics and used a similar script to that of Egyptian hieroglyphics; or that in the Inca Empire, terraces and canals were constructed for
agricultural production, the practice of the shrinking of skulls, and had a social system that respected collective community of the land, where all its members would collaborate in the construction of public works.  In summary, the teacher did not speak about what the pre-Columbian peoples were able to do, but of what they were unable.

Every October 12th in celebrating Columbus Day in a civic event, the school principle would remind us that “political pluralism, freedom and protection of indigenous peoples” were brought in the vessels and saddlebags of Christopher Columbus. However, no one reminds us that those same vessels and saddlebags brought us mortal diseases, the Inquisition, crime and terror. They stole the gold and the silver that ended up in the arches of entrepreneurs in Geneva and Hamburg, and financed the Baroque splendour of European monarchies and the decisive launch of Western mercantilism.

More than half a Millennia of Discrimination and Racism

The principle of the school would admire the actions of Christopher Columbus and Christian faith that was imposed by the Conquerors, but no one would say a word on the depredation of genocide committed against indigenous peoples, over the new beliefs and customs imposed by bloodshed and gunpoint, and most importantly over the social and racial marginalization of indigenous peoples and blacks in the new colonies. The Creoles were turned into the lords of conquered lands, with right to enjoy social and economic privileges, as well as had the right to be the ruling class. The luck of white man’s supremacy since that October 12th, 1492, is reflected in the evident racism that inhabits the collective subconscious of the Americas, where natives and blacks not only have to change their name, they have to change their ways, their clothes – their identities. However – even if they have a Doctor’s title and have a European last name, they are still indigenous to the bone.

When I finished school, I understood that the truth and false of a same history is dependent on the voice of the narrator, since when I began to read the version of the conquered, of those on the bottom, I realized that the arrival of the Europeans to the lands of the Americas were bloody acts and that Christian religion, born as an oppressive instrument during the Conquest, and that Columbus’ so-called “discovery”
implied the extermination of vast civilizations and that October 12th is nothing to celebrate, but to reflect on.

All in all, our teacher taught us the act of self-hating, as whom teaches to differentiate white and black, because her lessons were depreciatory towards indigenous peoples – perhaps with more cruelty that Pizzaro and Cortes and with less compassion that Bartolome de Las Casas and Vitoria, simply because the knowledge she passed onto us was the version of the victorious over the defeated.

Since then, many years have passed – I ceased to be a child and she ceased to exist. However, what I cannot accept is the fact that October 12th continues to be celebrated as Columbus Day. Although we continue to see our faces reflected in European mirrors, at the end of the day we, the Mestizos (mixed-raced) of the Americas, will still
be the illegitimate children of the Conquest – of plunder and rape – as were the
children of Malinche in Mexico and the daughters of Atahuallpa in Peru.

Now if we are able to face this truth, we should also have enough courage to recognize that the only thing we have inherited this half-millennium of genocide and colonization from the Western world is the shame of being who we are – the social pyramid where dark colour is at the base and light is at the top – and where skin colour and family background continues to be the determining factors that determine the social and economic position of the peoples of the Americas.

Distributed by:

The Women’s Coordinating Committee for a Free Wallmapu

October 12th, 2011

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