In major cities across America Columbus Day (which is annually on the second Monday of October), remembers Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas on October 12, 1492 and heralded as a great source of pride for Americans especially those of Italian descent.  Columbus was an explorer backed by the Spanish Crown promising to find riches and spices in India and the Orient. At least that is the sanitized version of history we as children were taught, are still taught to this day. Like this poem,

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Having studied a truer accounting of the struggles for Columbus to get funding, the arduous crossing of the Atlantic (which we know by all accounts means he was lost) and the subsequent loss of life and limb of native Tainos and other inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands he found instead.

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We learn as a child that he was in fact quite lost. What we don’t learn is the ensuing abuse of the native people, his insistence on the existence of gold and the torture of native inhabitants when gold was not found. We also learn that as Columbus is made governor of the new found lands and begins to exploit the population as labor to build colonies Tainos die off from neglect and disease. A new source of labor is needed and thus the slave trade of Africans begins with fervor. That is however just the tip of the iceberg of truth.

In Eric Williams book “From Columbus to Castro” we get an in depth look at the economic life in the Caribbean. The summary from inside the flap reads:

“The History of the Caribbean is about 30 million people scattered across an arc of islands — Jamaica, Haiti, Barbados, Antigua, Martinique, Trinidad, among others-separated by the languages and cultures of their colonizers, but joined together, nevertheless, by a common heritage. For whether French, English, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, or-latterly-American, the nationality of their masters has made only a notional difference to the peoples of the Caribbean. The history of the Caribbean is dominated by the history of sugar, which is inseparable from the history of slavery; which was inseparable, until recently, from the systematic degradation of labor in the region. Here, for the first time, is a definitive work about a profoundly important but neglected and misrepresented area of the world.”

We must be responsible with our youth and understand that truth is truth. Teaching a first grader basic facts feels safe but when that same child is in high school allowing them to continue on the path of 1/2 truths and lies about our connected common history is irresponsible.

Especially for those of native and Hispanic descent there is a soreness that many refuse to address. Even when acknowledging a more realistic view of the brutality historians and journalist will still attempt to sanitize by all accounts.

With the advent of social media especially facebook and twitter my own postings on this day have been met with anger and outrage. The truth usually does that especially when it is not sanitized by myself.  I get it though. People will hold on to old ideas like the last few hairs on their head or the faded memories in a picture. Because it feels good. Who wants to admit they’ve been lied to?

At this stage in my life I am ready for anything. I know more now than I did 20+ years. There are new truths I am learning about myself, my view of my parents and friends and new realities that are confronting my very thinking. But inside of that truth is growth. Just as my new learning on the subject of the Americas shook me so do the new truths that occur daily, weekly and monthly in this what I call Midlife Priceless.

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