Columbia, the gem of the ocean

1893 World’s Columbian Exposition

Columbia calls
Columbia calls
Another anniversary of “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two.” Two facts that are no longer in dispute are these.

The Italian explorer stumbled upon the Americas. His “journeys marked the beginning of centuries of transatlantic colonization.” And he never actually reached what we know as the United States.

Yet, long before the Statue of Liberty, Columbia was the name given to the female personification of the ‘American spirit.’ “It was one of the earliest symbols that the colonies used to distinguish their collective identity from the Old World. [That meant] Britain in particular – and then rally behind in the Revolution. It became a popular, poetic reference to America as a whole.

“The name Columbia for America first appeared in print in 1738, thought to have been coined by Samuel Johnson. This was done so regularly in a weekly magazine that included debates of the British Parliament, which was illegal to do at the time. By the… 1760s, Columbia had become an alternative or poetic name for America. It also was consistently used for items reflecting American identity, such as ship names.

“Columbia’s look never became standardized in the way we view Uncle Sam. Usually, she was seen as a young or middle-aged woman with draping gowns ornamented in stars and stripes. Her headdress sometimes included feathers or a wreath, but most often was a cap of liberty.

“Early on, Columbia was portrayed as a goddess-like female, sometimes called Lady Columbia or Miss Columbia. It was not uncommon to see her depicted as an Indian queen or a Native American princess. Columbia Pictures began using her as its logo in 1924, appearing with a torch, much like the Statue of Liberty.”

Hail, Columbia

The 1893 World’s Fair held in Chicago to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival was called the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Growing up, there were two songs in our grade school songbook, a replica of which I own as America Sings (collection copyright 1935) referencing Columbus. Hail, Columbia! and Columbia, Gem of the Ocean were in the same section as The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The former now serves as the Vice President’s ceremonial entrance march. You can occasionally find Hail, Columbia appearances in movies set during 19th century America.

Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean is “the ‘oldest well-known song of entirely American origin which could, by style or content, qualify as a national anthem. In the mid-1800s, [it] vied with other songs in the American “Patriotic Big Five.” They also including “Hail, Columbia”, the “Star-Spangled Banner”, “Yankee Doodle”, and “My Country Tis of Thee” considered for use as a national anthem.” The Star-Spangled Banner was selected only in 1931.

At least 54 U.S. communities carry Columbus’ legacy in their names. They include Columbus, the largest city in Ohio, and the District of Columbia. Columbia University in New York City used to be King’s College before the Revolution.

The divorce from Christopher Columbus goes apace. However justified, it’ll be more difficult, I imagine than banishing the Confederacy. It has a far deeper, if peculiar, root in American rebellion.

Indigenous Peoples Day v. Columbus Day

Dumping Columbus Day seems unfortunate in that it becomes a zero-sum equation.

indianOctober 12, before the federal government turned it into a Monday holiday, was, Columbus Day in the US, to honor that guy “who sailed the ocean blue in 14 hundred 92.” However, several towns are instead celebrating Indigenous People’s Day.”

“For decades, celebrating ‘Columbus Day’ has been hotly debated. Many feel Christopher Columbus is largely responsible for the decimation of the Native Americans, and giving him a day of celebration just adds insult to injury.” In this blog, I’ve been supportive of this redesignation. Check out this article.

Still, I’m not quite sure if it’s the holiday one would really want. It seems to be mostly about sales, and a chance to get away and perhaps see the autumn colors before the cold weather comes.

Now, if there were some conversation about what Indigenous People means – see this video for a limited time, e.g. – maybe it’d be a more meaningful change. The Dakota Pipeline story was underreported because the Native Americans lack political muscle.

Still, dumping Columbus Day seems unfortunate in that it becomes a zero-sum equation: Indians, si, Italians, no. Columbus Day has always felt like some of those non-legal holiday celebrations, such as St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) for the suddenly Irish and Cinco de Mayo (May 5) for the ersatz Mexicans, only without all the alcoholic consumption. And there’s usually a parade!

But the Italian experience in America is interesting to me. As this article notes that when Columbus, who was Italian, but sailing for Spain arrived:

“We think of this day as when America became white. But nearly 400 years after Columbus, a large wave of Italians would arrive on American shores, and they would not be considered as such. The period between 1880-1920, known as ‘The Great Arrival,’ when at least three million Italians immigrated to the United States, created an era in which southern Italians had to become white.”

This is an interesting story, when, early on, they were considered black, especially in the South, and treated as such, which is to say, badly.

Maybe we can have some other, less polarizing, Italian-American’s birthday celebrated and learn more about our ever-changing country.

Goodbye, Columbus?

jackson20Goodbye, Columbus – was that a Philip Roth novel or a song by the Association (#80 in 1969)? Ah, my annual ambivalence about Columbus Day.

This is related: did you ever wonder why Hispanic Heritage Month runs from mid-September to mid-October?

The reason why September 15 was chosen as the official start of the month was it is the anniversary of independence of a number of Latin American countries…

The 30-day celebration acknowledges the huge impact the Latino community has had on shaping the United States into the country it is today. From Christopher Columbus’ first contact with the indigenous peoples of the Americas in 1492, to the Spanish colonies of the West to the fortress of St. Augustine, Florida — the oldest continuous European settlement in North America – founded in 1565, decades before Jamestown, Virginia.

Hispanics have been in this country longer than anyone beside Native Americans.

I’ve written before that while Columbus’ voyages started a chain of events that were often obviously terrible for American Indians, slapping ALL the blame on him individually seems unmeasured. Though, if the Seattle School Board wants to observe ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day’ on the Columbus holiday, that’s fine by me.

On the other hand, if you wanted to dump Andrew Jackson from the $20, I could definitely go for that. An ad for a book I have not read – An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz:

[She] adroitly challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the Indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them. And as Dunbar-Ortiz reveals, this policy was praised in popular culture, through writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman, and in the highest offices of government and the military. Shockingly, as the genocidal policy reached its zenith under President Andrew Jackson, its ruthlessness was best articulated by US Army general Thomas S. Jesup, who, in 1836, wrote of the Seminoles: “The country can be rid of them only by exterminating them.

He is arguably the most shameful American.

I do like this:
From Etsy’s Bold Statement – No More Redsk*ns powwows: “Another small victory for the Change the Mascot movement. Effective immediately Etsy will no longer allow any item to be sold via their website that includes the Washington NFL team’s logo or the term Redsk*ns.”

A down payment at least: U.S. To Pay Navajo Nation $554 Million in Largest Single Tribe Settlement in History.

This is an ad about indigenous Australians, but the sentiments are applicable much more widely.

QUESTION: Columbus discovered America, et al.

People falsely reported as dead on social media is practically a cliche.

Started musing – my, I muse a LOT – about how certain information is considered true, even though there is incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, such as Abner Doubleday inventing baseball, even though he clearly did not; yet, the ballpark in Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of fame, remains as Doubleday Field.

I’m not sure there is a better example than that. There are quotes that are misstated. The one here I find most interesting is “Nice guys finish last” by US baseball manager Leo Durocher (1906–1991). His remark was actually Continue reading “QUESTION: Columbus discovered America, et al.”