History isn’t fact, but a narrative. Nations narrate their own histories, telling the stories about themselves that they prefer. Holidays are one way in which these stories are told and re-told.
At www.america.gov, the U.S. government describes Columbus Day as a”commemoration” of Columbus’ “landing in the New World” (they astutely avoid the term “discovery”) and initiating a “lasting encounter” between the mis-named “Indians” and Europeans (no mention of genocide or the stealing of land).
Contesting this particular version of history, an organization calling itself Reconsider Columbus Day is asking Americans to adopt an alternative national narrative, one that both acknowledges and emphasizes the oppressive and unjust outcomes of the ongoing “lasting encounter” between American “Indians” and Europeans-now-Americans.
The narrative and counter-narrative is an interesting example of how nation-founding memories are not set, but always potentially changing as the national ethos and distribution of power shifts underneath them.
For more on national memories, see our post comparing the German approach to the Holocaust and the America approach to slavery.Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.