Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Mama, what comes after 'In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue'?"

"Mama, what comes after 'In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue'?"

In fourteen hundred ninety two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
The Taino people he did invade
And established the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

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I'm just about finished with an incredible book called, "Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years."  It was originally part of my son's 4th grade curriculum and I was planning to begin covering this material back in October, in conjunction with the national holiday of "Columbus Day."
 
However, I changed my mind about the time to introduce this material to my son after reading the first few chapters of this book, which is actually a teacher’s guide for elementary and middle school history.  I’ve decided not to participate in any celebration of Columbus after reading this.  I was also inspired to pen this poem. 

At first, I only taught my son the first paragraph, because he would always ask me… “What comes after –In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue?”  I invented the following 2 lines myself, but decided to write more as I was moved to after reading this book.

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In fourteen hundred ninety two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
The Taino people he did invade
And established the Transatlantic Slave Trade.


3 million Taino sailed to Spain for the new enterprise
But slavery proved to be a business unwise
Not enough profit in slaves could keep Columbus fed
Because most of the Taino’s just ended up dead


Back over the ocean blue Columbus sailed
To take up trading gold, since slavery failed
No longer known to history as an invader and slaver
Columbus' new moniker was transatlantic “trader”


So in exchange for corn, potato and gold in great big lumps
Europe exported pertussis, measles, the pox and mumps
Columbus becomes a hero for evangelizing the “Indian”
While the Caribs, Seminole and Taino people are relegated to oblivion


A true American patriot leaves her children this legacy
to teach a balanced history of America, not hypocrisy
For the next 500 years of Americans lucky to call this country their place of birth
Ask the question: What did Columbus really do to the indigenous people known as Keepers of the Earth.

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"Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."  - Christopher Columbus

I can’t help but have a confusion of feelings about rediscovering the history of the Americas through this book.  I’m proud to be an American, and hold many American ideals, but I also feel guilty, and angry.   I feel guilty, not because I sympathize with the Europeans back in 1492, but because I so readily accepted the “Columbus as Hero” myth taught me as a child.  Then, I feel angry, that my education on this subject was short-changed.  It almost feels like I was taught a lie, by virtue of the fact that so much was omitted.

I’m so glad to have the opportunity, not only to learn this now, but to be able to teach my children what I missed out on.  I don’t want to preach anti- European history, or Indigenous people centrism, but I do want to give my children that history is perspective, and that there are many perspectives to learn about.

Prior generations in America learned hubris, imperialism and exclusion ideology from glorifying the actions of Columbus and reinforcing those attitudes in the Columbus myth history.  If a more complete history of the Americas are taught to our children, they will discover the Chippewa, the Hualapai, the Navaho, the Souix, the Osceola, the Seminole, the Taino, and all that we can learn from them.

Perhaps the hubris of war and imperialism that seems to be the hallmark of America from the perspective of the rest of world can be changed in the coming generations.  Perhaps my generation and my children’s will begin to turn the tide of sentiment. The indigenous people of this country were known as “Keepers of the Earth.”  Not only is learning from them a good idea, but may well mean our very future.

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