Denver, CO -- Oct. 7 - 10, 2005

Columbus Day protests this weekend

By ERIN WIGGINS Colorado Daily Staff

October 9, 2003

With Columbus Day approaching Monday, Oct. 12, expected controversy has reemerged over whether Christopher Columbus should be considered a national icon or a murderer of millions.

This weekend, three student groups at University of Colorado-Boulder are out to argue the latter.

Two Mexican-American Student groups (UMAS and MEXA) and the Oyate Native American student group have connected with the national Transform Columbus Day organization to support four anti-Columbus Day events this weekend.

The first three events are to be held in Denver on Friday and Saturday, including an "All Nations" March Friday night. Participants will march starting at 5:30 p.m. from four cardinal directions to converge at a central point. Marchers from the North will wear red, South will wear white, East will wear yellow and West will wear black.

The marchers are asked to carry candles, bells or drums and meet in Cuernavaca Park near I-25 and 20th Street in Denver. Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu and a survivor from the Columbine High School shootings will then speak to the group about ending violence.

CU students plan to carpool from the UMC on Euclid ave. at 4 p.m. The events are free and open to the public.

On Monday afternoon around noon there will also be an event at CU with speakers and drummers. Three CU professors are slated to speak outside near Ketchum Hall with an opportunity for students to voice their opinions.

Ara Cruz, UCSU community relations director and a member of Oyate, said Oyate supports Transform Columbus Day events because people need to know the truth about 15th century explorer Christopher Columbus' exploits in the Americas.

"He's celebrated as a hero and given a holiday. It's celebrating genocide," said Cruz. "Columbus is compared to Hitler and it's a real comparison. Eight million people lived in the Caribbean when he arrived and nearly all were wiped out within four decades."

Cruz and two other student members of Oyate, Mahli Saunders and Cheriena Ben, all agreed that Columbus did not "discover" anything but the people already living in and near the Americas.

They pointed out that Columbus was taken back to Spain in chains for the crimes he committed against indigenous people in the Americas.

Members from each of the student groups, which are "intertwined," according to Ben, manned a table Thursday at the UMC publicizing the weekend events.

Arturo Montano, co-chair of the MEXA student group, stood at the table and said he feels a strong need to get the anti-Columbus Day message out.

"People tend to be ignorant about what he (Columbus) did," Montano said. "People argue that it's in the past, but I think that's perpetuating denial. We're out to remind people that this was a whole peaceful continent before he (and those that followed him) came and wiped it out."

The state of Colorado holds significance for the Transform Columbus Day group's because the first day commemorating Columbus was founded in Pueblo, Colorado in 1905. The celebration originated out of the large Italian community living there. Two years later, Colorado officially adopted Columbus Day as a statewide holiday.

Since then, the Columbus Day celebrations have ebbed and flowed in the Denver area. The 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in 1992 brought out over 4,000 protesters and only 100 parade participants. After that, the parade was indefinitely canceled.

Members of national organization Sons of Italy New Generation reestablished the parade in 2000. This year, the group is putting on a Columbus Day dinner and dance on Sunday at their local chapter's headquarters in Salida, Colorado.

"Both Italian-Americans and Native-Americans have legitimate reasons for holding parades and protests," said a CU history major and College Republicans member who wanted to remain anonymous. "In a free society, the public should be entitled to hear merits of both arguments."

He pointed out that, while Columbus and his constituents slaughtered native people, many were also killed unintentionally by Europeans' endemic diseases.

"I'm not necessarily for or against [the celebration]," he said. "But this is a free speech issue."

Proponents of the anti-Columbus Day parade disagree.

"He wasn't the first to discover it, and it shouldn't be celebrated," Oyate member Saunders said.

"It should be a day of celebration for the surviving indigenous cultures, not for Columbus," suggested Ben, another Oyate member.

Cruz said CU's Student Groups Association has discussed endorsing the Transform Columbus Day event. For the three student organizations and all of their supporters, it's just another step in a battle they say they will continue to fight.

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