Tuesday, October 14, 2014

COLUMBUS DAY



In the early 80’s I worked for Atlantic Richfield in Denver during the oil boom. Every day I walked the mile and a half to work from my apartment in Capital Hill.  Work began at 7:30 am two and a half hours too early for my metabolism.  I was sleep deprived the entire five years of my employment but the walk downtown was precious time to meditate and visualize before I had to walk through the door of a skyscraper into the manufactured environment of 17th street. One day I remember the skyscrapers and asphalt  gradually becoming transparent and I could see and smell the dirt, buffalo grass and chamisa underneath.  It was like a double exposure. It made me feel freer and I held that vision for a long time.

So what does this have to do with Columbus Day? Well that artificial world concealing the dirt and grass that supports it would never have existed if Christopher Columbus had been unsuccessful. It was the extension of a disease that was beginning to overtake Europe. He never made it to the mainland of the new world and always believed he found a new route to Asia. I guess we credit another Italian, Amerigo Vespucci with that but there is no doubt that he was the first symptom of an unstoppable disease.   I sometimes wonder if the sci-fi movies about alien invasions and catastrophic epidemics of incurable viruses from other planets isn’t about the deeply buried guilt of the vanquishers. 
Typical Idyllic Image of the Arrival of Columbus

In real life, there is no one-way victory. The defeated have a special power over the victors that will never go away until acknowledged, or if in denial eventually to worm its way through the body of the apparent victors until it consumes their vitality.

Some in the Italian community were very upset by Seattle’s decision to rename October 13, 2014 Indigenous People’s Day. However, the Norse discovered North American almost 500 years before Columbus. I wouldn’t be surprised if other discoverers are awaiting discovery.  Of course, people have been here a long time and unless someone discovers that inhabitants of the Americas discovered Asia instead of the other way around, then ancient Asians are probably the true discoverers of the Americas.

Italian-Americans are deeply offended," Lisa Marchese, a lawyer affiliated with the Order Sons of Italy in America, told The Seattle Times. By this resolution, you say to all Italian-Americans that the city of Seattle no longer deems your heritage or your community worthy of recognition.

From the other side

Councilmember Kshama Sawant was clear about why activists pushed for the city to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same date as Columbus Day.


The 15th-century explorer “played such a pivotal role in the worst genocide humankind has ever known,” Sawant said, referring to the decimation of the Native American population in the decades after Columbus.

When I was a schoolchild Columbus was unquestionably a hero. Also, it was another day off and that was the most important thing. I’m glad that the hero status of Columbus is under reevaluation although I must say it was in many ways braver for him and his men to take off across the sea in 1492 than for today’s astronauts to travel to the moon and beyond now. But, it worries me that the mentality has not changed that much and bravery isn’t good enough. I do believe humans need to evolve to another level beyond cosmic thugs before colonizing any other planets. The lessons are beneath our feet in the earth and sky we hide with our big buildings, contraptions and smog. I do pray and hope that humanity begins another level of discovery, the discovery of respectful and balanced relationship between our neighbors and us.