Poor Christopher Columbus. Even 511 years after his death, the Italian explorer who was only looking for a quicker route to the Far East can't get a break.
In an increasing number of cities around the country, suggestions are being put forth to do away with Columbus Day, the second Monday in October on your calendar, that honors the "discovery" of the New World by the man for whom the governmental holiday is named.
For most of us, Columbus Day is just another day to work or go to school. Since 1937, though, it's been a federal holiday.
If we give Chris a thought at all on his day, we might remember the little ditty we learned in school: "In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue ..."
Those of us of a certain age may even recall putting the flag out, a ritual that occurred every nonreligious holiday before flying the flag too often labeled one "overzealous" or "a patriotic freak."
Americans, who might not be who we are or even here today without Columbus, want to keep the holiday, even if we don't get to celebrate it by staying home from work.
By slightly less than a 2-to-1 margin in a Marist College survey, we believe it's a good idea to have a holiday named after the Italian, and in a 2-to-1 margin we have a favorable view of the guy.
So what did the guy do to get on the bad list of the minority of respondents? He "discovered" the New World, a feat that must have surprised the indigenous people already here.
That, of course, led to European colonization of what became known as the Americas, the importation of slavery and the slaughter of many who were here first. And, of course, to the existence of those of us who are here now.
Columbus, sailing under the Spanish crown, hoped to find a quicker route to the East Indies (South and Southeast Asia) by sailing westward. The goal was for Spain to enter the spice trade with Asia. A funny thing happened on the way to Japan, though. Columbus found the Bahamas, and the New World was thus "discovered."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is one of those who wouldn't be unhappy to get rid of the guy. Even though the city has a long tradition of a Columbus Day parade, the far left-leaning mayor has created a commission to determine whether monuments to historical figures on public grounds — like ol' Chris — are "oppressive and inconsistent with the values of New York City" and might be removed.
The Los Angeles City Council beat the mayor's commission to the punch. In August, it erased the explorer's name and renamed the governmental holiday to honor "indigenous, aboriginal and native people."
Denver and Seattle have made similar moves.
Earlier this week, Washington, D.C., sought to get on the bandwagon. D.C. Council member Anita Bonds suggested booting Columbus in favor of "Indigenous People's Day."
Columbus Day, she said, "fails to acknowledge the brutality to which the indigenous people were subjected by European explorers."
In truth, though, which people in history, ours or anyone else's, have been flawless? Which of our actions as a country, or those of any country, are not without some controversy, some measure of pain for somebody?
Deeply regarded United States presidents were slave owners. How do we determine whether a slave holder is worse than a soldier who fought for a cause that supported the practice?
Many presidents authorized soldiers to fight wars. Others sanctioned land deals that robbed Native Americans of their lands or sent troops to kill them. One had Japanese Americans sent to concentration camps. Some stole elections. A few covered up crimes.
Because war is abhorrent, should we tear down monuments to those who fought in them? The Vietnam Wall? The World War II monument? The haunting, creeping soldiers that compose the Korean War memorial?
One recent president made decisions that helped some people but hurt many others and tremendously raised the country's debt. Another makes it habit to say hateful things about some people. One of those was serving as president less than a year ago. The other one is currently in office. Should those people be banned, shunned, erased from our consciousness?
Slavery, 45 flawed presidents, wars, crimes, the Trail of Tears, civil rights — they're all part of our history. As are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, inventions, securing freedom for Europeans and helping bring about an end to the Cold War.
We take the bad with the good. We look for better ways, create scenarios where more people can be successful, pick ourselves up when we fail, dust ourselves off and try again. That's who Americans are.
We like the way fledgling soldier John Winger (Bill Murray) put it in the 1981 comedy "Stripes": "We're all very different people," he said. "We're not Watusi. We're not Spartans. We're Americans, with a capital 'A', huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. We're mutts! ... But there's no animal that's more faithful, that's more loyal, more lovable than the mutt."
And it all started with a guy who made a wrong turn when he was looking for spices.