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Día de la Hispanidad: celebrating genocide

17 October 2014

Last Thursday, October 12th, was Spain’s national day. This day is known as Columbus Day in the USA and used to be called Día de la Hispanidad in Spain. Now it is simply called “Fiesta Nacional de España” but the origin of the date remains the same: October 12th is the anniversary of Columbus “discovery” of America, specifically his landing in the Bahamas in 1492.

Many of my thoughtful Spanish friends and colleagues exhibit a certain uneasiness about this holiday, and nobody I know actually celebrates it. It is just a day off, nothing else. The reason is obvious. One cannot celebrate the beginning of Spain’s colonisation of the Americas without considering what it meant for the native peoples in the newly “discovered” lands. The conquistadores did not just take the Native American land and gold. In many cases, they committed what we today would consider crimes against humanity or even genocide.

It is a disturbing feature of Spain that such a day is still celebrated. After all, Germany does not celebrate Hitler’s birthday, say, or the anniversary of his attack on Poland or any other date related to Nazism. Now, the reader might say that Columbus was not Hitler; of course not, but still one cannot help but notice similarities between the racist ideology underlying Nazism and the racist ideology used to justify the conquests in the 16th century. In both cases the world was divided into “Übermenschen” and “Untermenschen”, with the latter having to accept the supremacy of the former or perish. We just do not care that much about what happened to the American Indians because it happened five hundred years ago and on the other side of the ocean, rather than within the lifespan of many people still with us today and on our own continent.

It would be much better to simply discard October 12th as a holiday and stick to December 6th, the anniversary of the referendum that approved the post-Franco democratic constitution in 1978, as this country’s national day.

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