12 Interesting Facts About Dia de la Raza (Day of the Race) / Columbus Day

(ref: A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn, about.com, wikipedia.org)

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue,
It was a courageous thing to do
But someone was already here.
— from 1492, a children’s song from Sun, Sun Shine    [ listen now ]

  1. The Native Americans who greeted Christopher Columbus when he first came ashore were the Arawaks of the Bahama Islands. These Arawaks were actually one of a number of peoples that speak a related group of Arawakan languages. Columbus described them as a peaceful people. Their primary industry was agriculture.
  2. A “hammock” (hamaca) is an Arawak invention.
  3. Arawaks constructed canoes by lighting small fires along the middle of a long log and scooping out the ashes.
  4. In 1495, failing to find gold after repeated expeditions, Columbus rounded up 1500 Arawaks as slaves, placed them in pens, and sent 500 of them back to Spain as samples. Two hundred of the five hundred died enroute.
  5. Approximate Arawak population over time1495: 250,000; 1497: 125,000; 1515: 50,000; 1550: 500; 1650: none
  6. In the summer of 1990, Native Americans met in Quito, Ecuador to form and mobilize a response to the upcoming quincentennial celebration of Columbus Day (1492 – 1992). The following year, they declared October 12, 1992 to be International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People.
  7. The National Council of Churches called on Christians to refrain from celebrating the Columbus quincentennial, saying, “What represented newness of freedom, hope, and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others.”
  8. On October 12, 1992, in one of many quincentennial protests, the Lincoln Center in New York City held a performance of Leonard Lehrman’s New World: An Opera About What Columbus Did to the Indians.
  9. Columbus Day was first celebrated in 1792. But the day is also recognized by Italian-Americans as a day that celebrates their heritage and accomplishments. It was first celebrated as such in 1866.
  10. In South Dakota, October 12th is offically named Native American Day. In Hawaii, it is called Discoverer’s Day. (source: wikipedia.org).
  11. Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) first took shape as a holiday during World War I but was more firmly established in Latin American countries in the 1920s. Although the phrase “the race” can often imply racist connotations today and “la raza” is sometimes misinterpreted in this way in ignorance, la raza is more properly and accurately defined as an “extended community bound by cultural ties”.
  12. Today on October 12, Hispanic heritage and accomplishment is celebrated as Día de la Raza in Mexico, Central America, South America (except Brazil), and in various communities in the United States (source: About.com)