Monday, October 06, 2003 - It's that time of year again when second-graders all over America cut slivers of brown and white construction paper to fashion their own replicas of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.
Then they repeat that cute rhyme we learned in class when we were their age: "In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue."
Teachers today replace the word "discovered" with "encountered," but 511 years after Columbus bumped into the Caribbean islands, thinking he landed in "the Indies," we're still presenting children with a skewed, sanitized version of history that's only going to hurt them later.
It's probably because we're so miseducated ourselves.
What else could explain the heralding of Columbus as hero?
On Saturday, when the Columbus Day march is in full swing in Denver, I'll be thinking about all the little kids who are still being misled, just as their parents were, about the mythology of Columbus.
When they learn the truth, they'll have reason to be angry. With so much to celebrate about Italian culture, no one should want a hero they can't truly be proud of.
Instead of heading to the parade, here's an alternate suggestion: Go to a library or bookstore and read up on this controversial figure. Decide for yourself if he's worthy of exaltation.
And if you're worried about possible revisionism, skip the modern day writers and go straight to the source of those who were there in 1492: Columbus himself and one of his associates, Bartolome de Las Casas.
Columbus's own letters, travel log and diary have been reprinted in a number of books, including "The Four Voyages."
De Las Casas wrote "A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies," published in 1552, after spending several decades living in Columbus's "New World."
In it, you'll learn all the details your teachers never taught you.
That Columbus abducted hundreds of Taino "Indians" from the Caribbean, brought them to Spain and sold them as slaves.
That he allowed his crew to rape the indigenous women - and pre-pubescent girls - of the islands now known as Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.
That he ordered the chopping off of noses and ears of "Indians" who refused to toil for their new Spanish masters.
And he did all of this against the will of Spain's Queen Isabella, his financier, who ordered him to stop enslaving "her subjects."
So it's not just about Columbus arriving and paving the way for European slave traders. He, himself, trafficked in slavery. He was not an innocent bystander. He ordered disobedient "Indians" to be burned alive.
Read De Las Casas' own words: "One time, I saw four or five important native nobles roasted and broiled upon makeshift grills. They cried out pitifully. This thing troubled our Captain (Columbus) that he could not sleep. He commanded that they be strangled."
This is the man we're celebrating?
Besides, Columbus was lost. Some historians believe that when he died in 1506, he still thought he had found a shortcut to India.
It was actually another Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci - the person for whom America is named - who figured out this was a different land.
Italians deserve a better icon, someone who truly embodies the spirit of their culture, hospitality and warmth.
I understand why Italians came to embrace Columbus. As a people, they were maligned when they arrived in America. And when Columbus was heralded in the early part of the century, Italians found an icon who legitimized them. What better figure than the man who "discovered" America?
We all believed the hype. But now that we know otherwise, it's our responsibility to educate ourselves about our history.
Glossing over it is a disservice to our children.
It's time to let go of Columbus as an icon of cultural pride and pick someone else. Maybe Galileo Galilei, the astronomer? He's someone we can all celebrate.
But, for now, Denver will continue to be divided on Columbus.
This weekend, we'll have two marches.
On Friday, hundreds of people - including Italian-Americans - are expected to arrive from four corners of the city for the Four Directions, All Nations March.
They'll converge at City of Cuernavaca Park for an evening of song and dance from Native American, Latino, African, Asian and Italian performers.
The next day, the Columbus Day parade will start in front of the Convention Center and will likely include a large crowd as well.
One day, I hope Denver will have one celebration, one that lauds Italian heritage. It will be a day that will feel truly American, just like St. Patrick's Day, when everyone becomes Irish.
On Italian Heritage Day, Americans of all ethnicities will celebrate Italian pride, even if they're Lakota or an immigrant from Colombia.
Cindy Rodriguez's column appears Mondays and Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.