Groups reflect on holiday

Members of a campus group talked about the flipside of the Columbus Day holiday.

by Betsy Graca

In elementary school, many students are taught about Columbus’ heroic voyage to discover the Americas. Monday, student groups exposed the University to the flip-side of that story.

La Raza and the American Indian Student Cultural Center addressed students in front of Coffman Union about their opinions of the Columbus Day holiday.

“To us, celebrating Columbus Day is like going to Europe and celebrating Hitler day,” event co-organizer and AISCC Board member Marisa Carr said.

People are celebrating the discovery of America, when in reality people were here tens of thousands of years before 1492, she said.

It’s a celebration of 500 years of genocide, Carr said. Prior to Columbus, there were more than 200 million American Indians inhabiting North America, and by 1900 only 200,000 were left.

Azeta Garthune, La Raza board member and co-organizer, said she proposed the event to educate students who might not know the history of Columbus.

“It’s sad that people still believe the myths surrounding Columbus,” she said. “In reality, he ravaged the land and millions of people.”

Garthune said the point of the event was not to shame anyone, but to celebrate indigenous heritage instead of Columbus.

She said for a lot of Americans of European descent, it’s a celebration of the birth of their country, but it’s a very different day for indigenous peoples.

“I think growing up we’re taught Columbus was a great guy, and in high school we’re taught he’s horrible,” spectator Anna Holzbauer, nutrition sophomore, said. “If they want to educate us, that’s great.”

In addition, Garthune said she wanted to unify the indigenous people and also expose both traditional and modern cultures.

The event opened with a ceremony conducted by Dr. Sylvia Lemus-Sharma, an elder of the Mexica civilization.

Lemus-Sharma, whose spirit name is Mayahuel, meaning “one heart of human diversity,” led the ancestral tradition of using sacred smoke to “dust the spirit.”

Participants then acknowledged the four directions and above and below to honor Mother Earth, she said.

Jesus Estrada, board member and historian for La Raza, said he’s both proud and aware of his indigenous roots as a Chicano. “This event will bring to light our roots that are often overshadowed,” Estrada said.

He added that indigenous peoples still suffer from the devastation that took place years ago, and some Latinos aren’t aware of their history.

In closing, the event incorporated modern culture with a performance from local hip-hop group Los Nativos.

Garthune said she suggested Los Nativos because they would bring present-day culture to the event, and she wanted to address past, present and future cultures.

“Remember that even though Columbus got lost,” Carr said, “we’re still here.”