Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ode to Christopher Columbus

Last year on Columbus Day, my husband and I found ourselves on vacation in Southern California.  The sun was shining, the warmth radiated through the trees and we were enjoying a restful vacation.  So we decided to see the old Spanish Mission, San Juan Capistrano in Orange County.  When the Spanish ruled the west, there were Catholic missions stretching from San Diego in the south, to Sonoma in the north.  The purpose of these missions was conversion of the local population to Christianity.  Today, they provide a glimpse of what life was like on a Spanish mission during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Being a history buff, I was looking forward to sharing this trip with my husband and son.  The day looked promising, until my husband refused to cross the street to the mission.  My husband is reserved and hates conflict, so when he saw protesters outside the mission he stopped dead in his tracks.  Since reading Spanish isn't my husband or I's forte, it was difficult to determine what they were protesting.  I honestly didn't care, people have the right to protest and I have the right to see the mission at San Juan Capistrano.  I began moving forward when my husband yelled, "Wait, we can't go!  I don't want a confrontation!"

Seeing the five protesters with their children in front of the mission, I was doubting there would be any controversy.  Besides, I had come all the way to California and wasn't going to have my vacation ruined by protesters.  I told my husband to "get over it," and politely walked past the protesters.

The protesters were kind, and family orientated, who simply wanted to share the view that Columbus was a mass murderer who committed horrible atrocities.  With the advent of political correctness and so called "revisionist" history (all history is revisionist), Columbus has fallen from grace.  While he still has a national holiday, he no longer gets parades, festivals or much recognition.  The most he gets is libraries, banks and the post office to shut down for a day.

We can debate all day on whether or not Columbus deserves his new treatment, but the fact remains that throughout history popular historical figures have fallen from grace.  Much like celebrities, we build up certain people we feel best represent our nation and ourselves.  Then we promote him/her endlessly and shamelessly, ignoring their faults, until a culture shift occurs and another historical figure takes his/her place. 

Take Benito Mussolini, the Fascist leader of Italy during World War II, while he was trying to rebuild Italy's reputation and economy, he was evoking an image of a new Roman Empire and he was it's Julius Caesar.  Never mind the fact that Caesar routinely killed or enslaved entire peoples he conquered, his image propagated a new image of Italy for the 20th century.

Historic figures have been used, abused and thrown out like yesterday's lunch for centuries.  As America's culture continues to evolve, historical figures we glorify now will either fade quietly into the background or become villains. 

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