By Jim Vail
Two elementary school students asked the Chicago Board of Education to change the name of the Columbus Day holiday because their research showed that the Spanish explorer is not someone the people should be celebrating.
“Hi, my name is Valerie Magallon and we are here because we want you to change the name of Columbus Day to Native American’s Day,” Magallon told the Chicago Board of Ed June 1st. “Kids are still going to have to have the day off, but we also want kids to learn what Columbus really was in life. Kids think he is a true hero, but he is not.”
Magallon, a 10-year-old fourth grader at Hammond School on the Southwest side, said her class did research and discovered that Columbus was actually a bloodthirsty tyrant who came to the Americas looking for gold and would cut off the natives’ hands, ears or noses if they did not bring him enough.
She added that her class made a petition that the student body signed to change the Columbus holiday name. Magallon and her classmate Omar Chavez presented this petition to their local school council before attending the district board meeting which convenes once a month.
“We at Hammond School did a lot of research and discovered a lot of bad things that Columbus did,” she told the board members. “So please help us.”
The students research in the fourth grade class that I teach revealed that when the Lucayan Indian people refused to work for Columbus, he fed some of their fallen warriors to hunting dogs while still alive, he brought back 500 natives to Spain as slaves and 200 perished on the journey, he cut of their hands and forced the natives to wear the severed limb around their necks if they did not find him enough gold and he made girls as young as nine serve as sex slaves.
So why celebrate a monster?
Columbus Day was established in the 1930s by the male-only Catholic organization known as the Knights of Columbus who wanted a male role model for their kids, so they pressured President Franklin Roosevelt to make Columbus a federal holiday, according to the website theoatmeal.com.
While the trustees were impressed with the young students’ presentation, Board of Ed President Frank Clark noted that the Columbus Day holiday is a national holiday, implying that there is nothing the Chicago Board of Education can do.
However, Magallon noted that there are other cities, including Albuquerque, Seattle, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz, as well as many cities in Oklahoma, that have changed the Columbus name. Even though Columbus Day is a federal holiday, it is not observed as a state holiday in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon and South Dakota.
Many of these cities instead celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, also known as Native American Day, as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day, promoting Native American culture and the history of Native American peoples.
A few months ago high school students in Elgin asked the city council to change the Columbus Day name as well to become the first city in Illinois to say no to Columbus. They told the council Columbus never ‘discovered’ this country when there was already a native population living here.
The next step for the Hammond students to change the name of this federal holiday would be to address the Chicago City Council. The Washington Post reported that in 2014 the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to change the federal Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous People’s Day, making it the second major US city after Minneapolis to adopt the change.