I must say, I was throughly disappointed when I learn that I had been fed misinformation all those years. So were my friends who share my birthday. I imagine many of today’s students are also given pause and wonder about this and other lessons taught. Columbus did not discover America. In fact, lots of people were here and had been here some 20,000 years. So, to say he discovered is a misnomer. In reading the genetic code of nearly all native Americans, it is they who deserve the credit for discovering America.
According to Brian Regal, Fellow of the Kean University Center for History, Politics, and Policy “Many animals were here and soon humans followed. In fact, all of North and South America contained are a variety of cultures stretching back before recorded history.” And people have been coming here ever since, chasing a better life, abundant food, water, shelter and opportunity. And what is clear is that America was a melting pot hundreds of years before the Statue of Liberty began urging the world, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” That remains true today.
In fact, scholars have known for decades that Columbus did not actually discover America and he never made it to its shores. He made it to what we now call the Caribbeans but not to the mainland. There was a long line of explorers who made it to the new world before he did. It’s more accurate to say Columbus introduced the Americas to Western Europe and paved the way for the massive influx of western Europeans that would ultimately form several new nations including the United States, Canada and Mexico. And for the native peoples who were already here, it was the opening of their land, people and cultures to disease, death and destruction.
Poets, writers, historians and clergy got busy creating the new nation’s story. They embraced Columbus as the American hero. And I suppose the young nation needed a hero. He fit the bill; European, Christian and male. These stories are designed to make us feel special and good about our selves, to help us connect with others and to build a shared identity as a nation. We embraced these stories not knowing they bare little resemblance to historical truth.
So, for me, the question remains. What must we pass on to the generations that follow us? Will it be truth or fiction? Truth, that symbolizes the solid, firm, upright and unshakable steadfastness of reality, or fiction, that deliberately false or improbable account of reality. Is truth the virtue that is used to build character of a person or a nation or shall we bend and blend it to suit our purposes? If we chose fiction, are we admitting that something is very wrong with how we’re living our lives and managing our nation? If that is so, shouldn’t we be about the work on fixing it rather that fictionalizing it? The tales of America’s origin are messy and complex and I wonder what it would have looked like if we had been given the truth rather than fiction. It’s common for people to share only versions of the reality that they believe are acceptable to others and in the process, paint a different version of the truth. But truth doesn’t have versions. The truth is the truth. Some people believe you need lies to survive in a relationship. But lies don’t just hurt relationships, they can destroy them.
The truth may be hard to face, hard to hear and hard to understand but it does exist. And that is what we need to pass on.
What’s a Person To Do?
1. Endeavor to be truthful. Stop and listen to your self critical voice. Find your truth and share that. Remember that only the truth will set you free.
2. Take a chance on people and be open honest and direct with them. The truth may not always be easy to hear, but in the long run, you will earn a lot more trust and respect from people when you are truthful.
3. To gain trust, you must tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. If it’s important for people to trust you, your words must be reflected in your actions. No one is perfect and that includes all of us. The truth is often not easy to take but it’s the only way to find peace and a sense of security in the life you have created for yourself.
So while you're enjoying the Columbus Day, remember the truth is more important than the fiction and in the end, however, it matters less who discovered American than what we do with and for our country and the people who are here today.