Columbus Was No Conquistador

Dear Editor:

A local publication featured an editorial addressing Italian heritage and culture. We agree that Italian history, traditions, and legacy should be cherished and respected. However, a writer rebutted that she “opposes any preservation or celebration of the name of Christopher Columbus.”

Columbus’s voyages bridged the Eastern and Western hemispheres. For many, Columbus’s travels exemplify the “voyage” to freedom and a better life – “The immigrant experience.” Consequently, since the United States is a nation of immigrants, never before have so many owed so much to just one individual – Christopher Columbus.

Columbus’s legacy and spirit represent “inspiration,” “imagination,” and “intensity.” These “three i’s” of human achievement accompanied American “pioneers” such as Susan B. Anthony and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when they struggled for equality and human rights, Neil Armstrong when he became the first “Earthling” to walk on the lunar surface, and they were with Barrack Obama when he became the first Black American to be elected President; and, currently, they are with Kamala Harris as the first Black woman of south Asian descent to hold the office of Vice President.

Those three simple — yet powerful — words help us to reach our own dreams, goals, and aspirations. Taken collectively, those three words mean hope for a better future. The zeal of Columbus is with dedicated visionaries arduously seeking those answers that will benefit humanity. Columbus’s vigor and spirit of exploration are truly with those who boldly go “where no one has gone before.”

Granted, Columbus has become a controversial figure. Many proudly proclaim Columbus as a visionary who opened up a new land of opportunity for the oppressed, the downtrodden, and the huddled-masses. Others see Columbus as an avaricious opportunist who massacred and spread disease among the indigenous people and institutionalized the slave trade. Columbus adhered to a different set of principles and convictions; societal norms which would be considered offensive by modern standards. We urge caution when applying 21st-century thinking to the prevailing morality of the 15th century.

Many historians claim that accounts of Columbus’s exploitation of the native population have been exaggerated as part of the “Black Legend,” anti-Spanish propaganda generated by Spain’s rivals during the 16th century. Additionally, Columbus’s rivals in the Spanish court have spread “canards” about his mismanagement in Hispaniola. Many historians maintain that there were too few Spaniards to have killed the millions who were reported to have died after East-West contact. Smallpox had a 90 percent fatality rate in Native American populations.

Columbus was no conquistador. Columbus’s challenge is for us to “stand up” and make a difference in the world we all share together. That is the true lesson – the true significance – of Christopher Columbus.

John Di Genio and Albert J. Cupo