Monday, October 12, 2009

Today is October 12th. In most of Latin America this is "Dia de la Raza," "Day of the Race." It celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus on the shores of a Caribean island and the great encounter of Western European culture with its economy, technology and deseases with two great American cultures with their economies, technology and deseases--first the Aztec of central Mexico and later the Inca in western South America. The encounter was characterized by warfare, looting, romanticism, intermarriage and eventually, the emergence of a race of people who are mixed in blood and culture. That mixture is refered to as "mestizo," or "mixture." People who identify themselves as mestizo comprise the vast majority of people in Latin America. Their first language is usually Spanish or Portuguese. They do not associate with the circles of power or with the indigenous populations, though they may very well speak their languages. They are in the middle of society, culture and race, they are mestizo. Christopher Columbus' arrival, with all the negative consequences, is nonetheless heralded as the seminal moment for the beginning of a people. This is their creation story. October 12 is celebrated universally as a day of great significance.

In the world dominated by those areas conquered by England and Germany, however, the sentiment is very different. The coming of the English and German happened later, and in many ways, in spite of Columbus, as if to capitalize on something belonging to another European Crown without having to pay dues. The English and German took very few local wives, but rather brought their women with them. Through warfare or deseases they replaced rather than mixed with the local peoples. The day is named for the man, not the result of his coming. The focus is on history of the day, not the history since that day. This is not a creation story, it is a stone in the creek across which a people stepped. Many people treated today as a normal work day, even schools and universities met in normal sessions.

An article in today's Killeen Daily Herald indicated that some schools were remembering Columbus and the events of his life. Characteristic of many school classrooms, an "accurate" rereading of history is sought that seeks to debunk the hero status of the man. The ill effects of his coming are discussed as well as the positive. His human errors are highlighted. One school classroom put him on trial, found him guilty of crimes against humanity, and sentenced him to life in prison. Obviously, these are Anglo-centric schools.

So who is right? Both and neither. Latin America is only now beginning to rethink its stance toward minorities, and it is calling into question the idealized view of the explorer that has held him in so high esteem for more than 500 years. It is long overdue. But on the other hand, their recognition of his coming as the seed of their race is rightly celebrated. Anglo-Americans are perhaps more objective in their reading of history, but must mitigate against use of this to hide a latent anti-Hispanic sentiment. They cannot disparage mestizos because Columbus wasn't always a saint. After all, most Anglo-Americans, if they took a careful look at their own histories, would find they, too, are mestizo, a melting-pot of races and cultures from many places, and most Hispanics, if they took a hard look at their own histories, would recognize their own indiscriminate elimination of minorities.

In the final analysis, it is only as we listen to one another openly and honestly, without giving up our own identity, that we can learn and grow into a community that honors diversity and celebrates unity. Perhaps that is even Godlike--the Christian God anyway, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one unified Godhead.

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