On October 14, the United States of America will once again celebrate Columbus Day. Now we are 527 years into a foundational myth of discovery that is often compounded by a lack of understanding of the Native Americans who inhabited the continent. According to the United States Library of Congress, this is what America was like before the arrival of a large number of poor and uneducated Europeans eager to find gold, silver, and free and fertile land:
“Millions of people lived in an area some five times the size of Europe. In strikingly diverse habitats and climates, they developed possibly the most varied and productive agriculture in the world. Their lifestyles and belief systems differed widely, and they spoke hundreds of distinct languages.”
However, over the past years, Europeans and their descendants in several different languages (Spanish, English, Portuguese, German, French, Italian, Hungarian…) have continued to pursue a story that does not accurately reflect a past but is used to provide a basis for unnamed cruelties.
527 years ago, the first Europeans arrived on our continent and they were received with hospitality and care. The group was lead by Columbus and they decided to accept this hospitality and took the opportunity to take several people captive as a “human sample” of the new territory.
An overcrowded, backward and poor Europe decided to muster their forces individually as separate nation-states to take the landmass that was “uncivilized.” Later, despite stories that claimed the land was empty the first individuals who chartered across the Atlantic Ocean knew better and they returned not with families to live, but as armed mercenaries and limited liability corporations to profit and plunder this “New World.”
First, they had to reduce the original population and the greatest genocide on the continent. While killing us off they gave us a name, “America”, and then enslaved our ancestors to provide them with the gold, silver, and other products that they would use to finance the building of their cathedrals, castles, and advance society — “progress and civilization”.
One of the most famous lines from the founding of the United States of America is the idea of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is amazing that this liberty, life, and opportunity only came at the cost of a great deal of enslavement and dehumanization of my ancestors.
Our languages, cultures, and traditions were wiped away first with the Catholic church, them from the Protestant church and the final blow from the late 19th Century Evangelical Christian missionary and the imposition continues. The European invasion achieved what they so longed to have: land, property, wealth at the cost of expropriating the land of the original population, at the cost of impoverishing my ancestors, at the cost of contempt and oppression.
When I think about these 527 years and see this image of the struggle of my ancestors in Ecuador, Peru, Brasil, Guatemala, Mexico, USA, I feel deep pain, a pain that comes from centuries of trauma and death. I wonder when we were convinced that we lived in freedom? The struggle to exist is daily.