On The Holiday of October 12

The meme above was received this morning. Its translation reads thusly:

“In 1492, natives discovered that they were Indians. They discovered that they lived in America. They discovered that they were naked. They discovered that sin existed. They discovered that they owed obedience to a king and a queen of another world and a god from another heaven, and that god invented guilt and clothing and had ordered that anyone who adored the sun, the moon, earth, and the rain that soaks it was to be burned alive.”

For purposes of these thoughts, it does not matter that the original quote was made by the author of a volume still regarded by the Latin American radical left as one of its cannonical texts but that he later estranged himself from. What matters is the obvious message of the meme and the not-so-obvious paradox underneath it. The obvious message is a protest against the cultural and physical extermination indigenous peoples were subject to centuries ago. The not-so-obvious paradox is that this protest was made in the evolved language of those who came over in 1492. Back then, natives also discovered that they had to speak a language that was completely alien to what they normally spoke in.

This is not about observing the holiday with a big celebration or protesting against it ad nauseam. Both attitudes are inadequate. The former whitewashes the nasty bits of the European conquest of Latin America. The latter holds to the impossible notion that history can be re-done, not just rewritten. The proper way to observe today’s date is engaging in serious reflection about what happened then and afterwards, because Latin America owes much of its virtues and flaws – if not all of both – to Columbus’ arrival on its shores.

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