Happy (last) Columbus Day

“I don’t want to just add on girl’s stuff to boy’s stuff, I want to explain how stuff gets to be stuff in the first place.”  -Nancy Armstrong, feminist scholar

It’s Columbus Day, or Discoverer’s Day (usually what it’s called in Hawaii), or Indigenous Peoples’ Day (what it’s called when someone has gotten self-conscious). So you know that I have to say it: can we do away with Columbus Day yet? The Indigenous Peoples’ Day revision is quiet recognition that Columbus’ ‘discovery’ was actually the beginning of the genocides of millions of native people. But it also sounds so much like generalized politically correct terminology that it’s easily dismissed– to understand it (i.e., what’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day?), you have to translate it (oh, it’s what they’re calling Columbus Day now). And in that way, it’s an empty gesture. We are still commemorating the history of Columbus and colonialism in the Americas, whatever the day is called. Do elementary schools still, as mine surely did, re-enact skits of the first Thanksgiving? (I will have you know too that I was somehow cast as a pilgrim on a cardboard Mayflower, even though I was the only black-headed kid in my Kentucky classroom.) I would just hope that eventually our American history curriculums are not going to locate our collective origins in the greatness of European ‘discoverers’; nor in a supposed opposite assertion that effectively ends up as white guilt.

A lot of the work I’m doing in my classes now, as you might guess, is trying to understand the foundations of Ethnic Studies as a discipline. One of the main stumbling blocks in authoring a good piece of Ethnic Studies scholarship seems to be this issue of revisionism. In the face of traditional disciplines that have obscured so much about minority communities, there is undoubtedly a need to answer back, to correct the records, to insert perspectives from ‘below.’ But it’s easy for this revisionism to do little to really change anything structurally, which in the case of the academy, means the foundational ways in which knowledge is produced. Like Nancy Armstrong says: it’s not enough to just add things (whether they be feminist or queer or indigenous) to the ones already in play. In activism and scholarship, we have to be critical about how “stuff gets to be stuff in the first place.” The ‘other’ perspective has to be self-critical too, or it winds up being just as limiting.

All this to say, Columbus Day (whatever you call it) shouldn’t be a holiday at all. If America wants to commemorate indigenous peoples, they need to pick another day with a meaning more actually situated to indigenous people. Which is probably too hard for whoever would have to do it. In the meantime, who can I talk to about getting the current commemoration out of my planner?

Right now, I’m sitting in my office trying to trick myself into writing a response paper for class, and unfortunately, I don’t think defaming Columbus Day will really do it. But more on how Ethnic Studies should operate, and on a particularly great book on Hawaiian history, soon.

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2 thoughts on “Happy (last) Columbus Day

  1. Hi Maile,

    I am laughing so hard at your take on Columbus Day. This morning around my desk we were making up names for this insignificant holiday in the eyes of my fellow co-workers. All of us with one common thread-Native Hawaiians with the exception of Jane who is a South Pacific Islander but same route of ethnicity.

    We came up with some good ones but I don’t think it would be politcally correct to say them on your blog space. It kept us laughing all the way to Starbucks.

    One co-worker said who gets a holiday named after them when he just happened to bump into land when in actuality he had no idea where the heck he was going. That in essence got a huge laugh from all of us with coffee spilling all over everything in Starbucks which was actually filled with people of non-color. We always seem to be in Starbucks when the white-collar tie suited people are there. No appreciation for people of color jokes. We seem to like them and laugh profusely at ourselves.

    BTW, the Thanksgiving trauma in elementary school I wanted to dress you up in Aloha attire something bright and cheery instead and Daddy was hoping that he could find a wa`a to use instead of the Mayflower. Once again there is the “people of color” humor so we didn’t want you to be the first third grader kicked out of elementary school because of your parents demented humor.

    Anyway, it was a good laugh of sorts. Mom

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