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Celebrating Columbus Day in Mexico

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Christopher Columbus
Credit: Library of Congress

Columbus Day, or as we know it in México: “El Día de la Raza” (Day of the Race), is not an official bank holiday, but we have been celebrating Columbus Day in Mexico since 1929.

As you might guess, there is some controversy surrounding the celebration of this particular holiday in Mexico, a land conquered by the Spanish.

Cristopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón) on October 12th, 1492, after many years of trying to convince his benefactor Queen Isabella of Spain to support his adventure to find a new route to Asia, finally succeeded and set off with his small fleet of three ships, La Niña, La Pinta y La Santa María.

He set his course west to reach the East Indies. In the end, he never reached the Indies, but instead landed on an Island he called Bahamas. From there, he sailed to Cuba and then to Hispaniola, which is now called the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Although Christopher Columbus was perhaps not the first to discover America (the Vikings lay claim, also), he was the first to contact and interact with the tribes and civilizations of the New World. This major event shaped and changed world history in countless ways. Now 526 years later, this date is still celebrated, lamented and debated.

One valid argument from those who are against celebrating this day is the violence Columbus used to intimidate and suppress resistance from the native population. By some estimates, the native population of the New World was reduced 90 percent through warfare, slavery and disease brought from Europe. Native American groups consider Columbus the European colonizer responsible for the genocide of millions of native people in America.

So, why do we call this day the Day of the Race in Mexico? Well, this term was coined in 1925 by José Vasconcelos, a well-known Mexican writer and philosopher who was the National Secretary of Education.

In his work, “La Raza Cósmica” (The Cosmic Race), he established the foundations to promote the celebration of October 12th, which was approved four years later.

Who were or still are this “cosmic race” José Vasconcelos was referring to? In his own words, “the civilization conquered by the white people, organized by our era, has set the material and moral foundations for the union of all men in a fifth universal race. This is the result of the mix of all the previous races and the overcome of all the past.”

Columbus Day is celebrated in almost every Latin American country, but the name of this holiday varies. For example, in Argentina it’s called “Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural” (Respect for Cultural Diversity Day). In the Dominican Republic it’s called “Día del Encuentro entre dos Culturas” (Encounter Day between two Cultures).

In our opinion, this day represents the evolution of the human race and the connection among all the cultures around the world. However, the methods they used were really disastrous. And who knows, maybe this was meant to be after all.

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