Why is Columbus Day a federal holiday

Controversial memory: Columbus Day

It is a holiday in honor of the Italian navigator and explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506): On October 12, 1492 he arrived in the "New World" while on the road in Spanish services. Columbus Day wants to commemorate this major historical event.

For many people, especially in Latin America, however, Columbus represents the beginning of a painful story. After all, with his conquest, the Spanish colonial era began on the American continent - from the point of view of the indigenous population, a dark chapter that stands above all for genocide and years of oppression. Columbus Day is and will therefore remain controversial. Nevertheless, it is still celebrated - albeit under a different name in some places. An overview.

Columbus Day

The memory of Columbus has a long tradition in the USA. Small celebrations were held along the east coast as early as the end of the 18th century. Columbus Day has been officially celebrated since 1909. It has been a mobile national holiday since 1968, taking place on the second Monday in October - this year on October 9th. Traditionally, New York celebrated again with elaborate parades and street parades.

In New York, the parade on Columbus Day is simply part of it - despite growing criticism

But the anniversary is also increasingly controversial in the USA. In some states it has already been renamed "Indigenous Peoples' Day" or "Native American Day". The idea: The day should commemorate the victims of colonization - and not heroize the brutal conquest and the resulting exploitation of the indigenous people. As a protest, several Columbus statues were smeared with blood-red paint across the country this year as well. A day of honor for the natives of North America - but that in turn comes across to the Italian-Americans. They argued that Columbus Day was also a reminder of their immigration history. After all, Christopher Columbus was an Italian.

Día de la Hispanidad

Columbus conquered the world on behalf of the Spanish crown - with his discovery of America the great chapter of colonization began for Spain. The anniversary is also intended to celebrate networking with the Spanish-speaking world in Latin America. It symbolizes how the Spanish language and culture expanded from Europe to America. Many Spaniards still call the day "Día de la Hispanidad", meaning "Hispanic Day". Officially it has been called "Fiesta Nacional de España" since 1987 and has been celebrated as a Spanish national holiday ever since.

Military honors for the Spanish king: Parade in Madrid on the national holiday - despite the Catalonia crisis

This year, too, will be celebrated with a large military parade in Madrid, in which King Felipe VI and the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will also take part. However, the celebrations are overshadowed by the Catalonia crisis. Actually, the thousands of Spanish flags that are hoisted and waved on the national holiday are supposed to remind of the unity of Spain. This year, however, they are also likely to be a sign of protest against the threat of Catalonia's secession.

One day - many names

"Day of the Race", in Spanish "Día de la Raza", this is actually the name of the anniversary in some Latin American countries - a controversial term. Some countries have therefore rededicated the day after massive protests by indigenous groups. They want to steer the focus away from Christopher Columbus and the great power Spain - and instead draw attention to their own history and culture.

Indigenous groups criticize Columbus Day - as here in the Colombian capital Bogotá

How to deal with the colonial legacy? That remains a challenge in many countries around the world - be it those that were sometimes brutally conquered or those of the conquerors themselves in Europe. Statues, monuments, street signs - names everywhere are still reminiscent of conflicting figures in history. But a lot is now being called into question - not least by the affected minorities, the descendants of the once subjugated themselves.

For the indigenous minorities in Latin America, the controversial holiday is therefore highly symbolic. They too are still celebrating it - but under different circumstances. In Venezuela, the day was renamed "Día de la Resistencia Indígena", "Day of Indigenous Resistance" in 2002. In Argentina it is on the calendar as the "day of respect for cultural diversity", in Bolivia as the "day of decolonization". Ecuador celebrates a "day of interculturality" and Chile the "day of the discovery of the two worlds".