Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

10-13 Controversial Christopher Columbus

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- No national holiday is more controversial than Columbus Day. Martin Luther King Day isn't particularly popular everywhere but Columbus seems to spark outright animosity among many throughout the hemisphere.
The strongest feelings come from those who were here before Columbus "discovered" them. They detest the historical inaccuracy but their big complaint is the treatment of native people that followed.
For a New Mexico perspective, watch Surviving Columbus, a TV documentary by New Mexican Diane Reyna. It presents the Pueblo Indians' 450-year struggle to preserve their culture.
The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico celebrate Friendship Day instead of Columbus Day due to the controversy surrounding atrocities committed against peoples of the Caribbean.
Closer to home, Minnesota refuses to celebrate Columbus Day because that state's many descendents of the Vikings contend there now is ample proof that their ancestors were here 500 years earlier.
Many historians agree, arguing that Columbus' achievements are not worthy of a national holiday. Although he was the first to bring European culture to the Americas, he wasn't the first one here.
In truth, the legend of Columbus has been greatly embellished to the point of becoming myth. Early-American author Washington Irving penned an overly-dramatic "biography" of Columbus that was so popular it became accepted as fact.
Who were the first people to arrive in the New World? The Bering Land Bridge theory has prevailed for the past half-century. It establishes the first Americans at about 13,000 years old. Digs near Clovis and Folsom, New Mexico were key to developing that theory.
But scientists are now beginning to wonder if there might have been more than one migration. Evidence is slowly emerging of artifacts dating back as many as 55,000 years. Some of that evidence also is here in New Mexico.
In 1940, University of New Mexico professor Frank Hibben claimed to have found evidence of a 20,000 year-old Sandia Man. But technical problems and sloppy record keeping resulted in that find never being accepted by scholars.
Now, a recent excavation at Pendejo Cave, near Orogrande in southern New Mexico, has revealed radiocarbon datings over 55,000 years old. For the time being, archaeologists can't get at it because not only is it on Otero Mesa, it also is on the MacGregor Range of Fort Bliss. So far, I haven't found out how the cave got that crazy name.
For now, that leaves Columbus in the catbird seat. Even though he sailed for Spain and is responsible for most countries of the Western Hemisphere being of Spanish culture, Columbus was Italian and Italians have captured the holiday as a celebration of their heritage in America.
And Italians had much to do with starting Columbus Day observances, first in cities with large Italian populations, such as New York and San Francisco in the 1860s. Then, in 1905, the first state celebration was in Colorado.
In 1937, the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and service organization, prevailed on President Franklin Roosevelt to declare October 12 a national holiday.
There is an outside chance that Italians had more to do with the first voyage of Columbus than history suggests. An Italian journalist and author, Ruggero Marino is making a case for Vatican involvement in financing the voyage.
Then-Pope Innocent VIII was closely connected with Genoa, the birthplace of Columbus, and with the powerful and wealthy Medici family. He maintains the Pope wanted another shot at winning the Holy Lands away from the Muslims again. Columbus was to find them the riches to mount another crusade.
A week before Columbus sailed, the Pope died and was replaced by a Spanish pope, whom Marino's book claims covered up Italian involvement in the Columbus voyage. Through a series of uncertainties, reminding one of the Da Vinci Code, the cover-up vanished to the secret archives of the Vatican, never to be seen again.
FRI, 10-13-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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