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13.10.03

Columbus Day

Matthew Yglesias gets snippy about President Bush's Columbus Day announcement. Based on Bush's remarks, Columbus day is only minimally about a Genoese captain who thought he could sail to the East Indies but wound up in the Caribbean. Instead, it's Italian-American* Pride Day with a less-PC-corny name. I agree that the change sounds dumb, but I think that all in all it's a better direction for the holiday to go in. Columbus isn't a man I much fancy celebrating, given his poor treatment of the people he mistakenly called "Indians," as well as the additional abusers who followed him to this side of the Atlantic. It could perhaps go the way of St. Patrick's Day. In its American manifestation, St. Patrick's Day has barely anything to do with St. Patrick, and has instead become an Irish Pride day. This then raises the problem of having the government make one nationality's day a federal holiday, while the others aren't. The solution, I think, is to drop Columbus Day from the law (though the President may continue to issue statements wishing everyone a happy one, as he does on St. Patrick's Day).

Here's an interesting twist to the ethnic holidays thing: Based on a search of whitehouse.gov, St. Patrick's Day does not appear to have any Congressional force behind it in the way that Columbus Day does. But Leif Erikson day -- which celebrates Scandinavian heritage -- does. But we still don't get a day off for it, which makes the official stamp close to negligible in importance. Perhaps Leif Erikson Day is an explorer's day that people concerned about Native American dispossession could feel more comfortable about. After all, the "Skraelings" managed to drive the Vikings out of America, and they didn't come back until after Columbus.

* This confused me a bit at first, because I tend to think of Columbus as a Spaniard, since his voyage was financed by Spain. It took me a while to remember that he was originally from a city that would much later become part of Italy.

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