Courtesy of The Imaginative Conservative
By Julia Niehoff
Unlike the Middle and Elementary schools in Mendham and Chester, and the other high schools in our area, Mendham High School is one of the few who does not have Columbus Day off. For most of our childhoods, Christopher Columbus was celebrated as a patriotic symbol of America. However, Columbus did not even set foot in North America, yet he is celebrated throughout a country which shares a capital of the same name (District of Columbia).
Even more important is Columbus’ infamous attacks and murders of indigenous people in the Caribbean, Central, and South America. A friar who lived on one of the islands recounted the devastation that Columbus and his men were responsible for: “They forced their way into settlements, slaughtering everyone they found there, small children, old men, pregnant, and even woman who have just given birth.”
The origin of Columbus Day in America is as old as the country itself. During the revolution, he was considered to be a non-British figure to stand behind. Dozens of cities and towns were named after him. Another shift towards the seemingly mystical explorer was in the late 1800s, when Italian immigrants entered The United States in enormous amounts. Many Italians connected with this Italian and created a persona of patriotism and appreciation, especially during this time of discrimination against them.
In recent years, the allure of Columbus has gradually faded away. This includes the West Morris Regional High School District too, who is another addition to the trend of districts in New Jersey that have removed the day off.
When asked, students from Mendham expressed a seemingly moderate stance on the topic. Senior Chole Williams on The Patriot’s staff said, “I understand why we don’t [have Columbus day off] because we have off other holidays that private schools have. So when you look at the big picture, it’s not as bad as we think. It would be nice to have it, but I don’t think we need it.”
In fact, associate editor Elisabeth Sauerman even agreed that we should change the holiday all together: “We should have it be Indigenous People’s Day so that natives can receive the respect they deserve after decades of genocide and oppression.”
Despite contrasting opinions, Columbus remains a part of American history, whether we like it or not. It is not up to us whether we put him in the “hero” or “villain” in our interpretation.