Celebrating Our Heritage

22 Oct

Now that I work from home it often takes a conscious effort to go outside. I’m very much a hermit and so the most sunshine I get is through the windows of my home office. The only time I tend to go outside is when I’m heading over to my parents’ house for our weekly dinners. On one such occasion I discovered, after groaning at the brightness of the outdoors, that the season was changing. I could feel the slightest shift in the air and I could sense the crispness that the season brings. I always look forward to the Fall. I have no need to worry about the pollen-filled Spring. The Fall has always been my favorite season. There’s something romantic about the Fall. Additionally, it is the time of year that is most about family and heritage.

I’m not sure how it happened, really. I moved back to the US at an age where I remember learning about Christopher Columbus “discovering” the United States. Like so many others, I was taught, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” I also remember being taught about what happened to the indigenous people of this land, the Native American Indians. I remember quite distinctly 8th grade history class being all about the plight of these people. However, it wasn’t until I watched a recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that it hit me like a ton of bricks. We were celebrating the person who brought about the decline of the American Indians. His accidental “discovery” and the subsequent colonization of the New World eradicated races, much of it in the name of religion and national pride.

Sure, one may view this opinion as an oversimplification of facts, but having attended primary school in Jamaica, I knew of Columbus’s treatment of the Arawak people and have always firmly believed you can’t “discover” something where a civilization already exists. We celebrate both Columbus Day and Thanksgiving during my favorite time of the year and yet both holidays hold a twinge of shame. In a few cases there are states that, rather than celebrate Columbus Day, use it as an opportunity to acknowledge America’s native people. Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day. Looking at that day in a whole new light gives it an entirely different sense of purpose, one that I welcome.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s all a matter of perspective. I know that part of celebrating MLK Jr. Day is in acknowledging the civil rights movement and that segregation and slavery were among our nation’s darkest moments, but its overlying reason is in championing the end to racial discrimination. Why not celebrate Indigenous People’s Day as one that honors Native American culture and history? It’s interesting, isn’t it, the way that we view history? We are all observers after the fact. Arguably, with time and distance we should be better able to assess and validate historical events and their significance. However, we often find it much easier to make excuses and convenient rationalizations for avoiding change. Unfortunate.

This year I’m taking the opportunity to reflect on the truth behind the holidays. I acknowledge the good and the bad that come about as a result of their existence but also take the time to appreciate those who are wrongfully carelessly forgotten.

This article appeared on page 5A in the 10/22/14 issue of The Union-Recorder.


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