Letter: Celebrate Tainos, not Columbus

As Youth Leaders at Sociedad Latina, we spent Columbus Day learning and talking about what actually happened when Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas. In school, we’ve all learned that Columbus is an American hero. But as we got older, we started to learn a different story. Columbus actually led many horrible, violent acts. We feel that it’s wrong to celebrate Christopher Columbus, a man who represents the enslavement of our ancestors. We are proud to be part of Sociedad Latina, because it stayed open on Columbus Day, when our schools closed, and used the day to talk with us about our own culture.

The truth is when Columbus landed in the Dominican Republic and Haiti around 1492, it wasn’t North America, it wasn’t India or China, and it wasn’t a good thing for our ancestors. Columbus saw the indigenous people, the Taino, as lesser beings and primitive, and he claimed the land for Spain and began using some of the natives as slaves. He also killed off huge numbers of the natives in fear of retaliation and by spreading disease. Columbus spread Catholicism throughout Hispaniola, forcing the Taino to abandon their gods and believe in one singular god. This led the Tainos to begin mass suicide; they knew their lives would never be the same under Spanish rule, which was more painful than death for some.

Columbus Day falling within Latino Heritage Month is a chance to learn the truth behind Columbus’s legacy and the history of our ancestors. They’re not in the history books, but the Taino were great mathematicians, astrologers and leaders. Learning the history of our ancestors has us more determined to make something of ourselves and to encourage others to learn the real history. We need to change this holiday to recognize the people who fought for our traditions and freedom throughout history, even those fighting right now.

As youths who have struggled to find our place in two different communities, we know “Latino” can be hard to define. Sometimes we feel like we live double lives, lost among two cultures, trapped “in the middle.” It’s difficult to find the balance between being Latino and living in a mostly white country. During Latino heritage month, we celebrate strong Latino leaders and try to educate our community about our history. Sociedad Latina teaches us to be strong leaders and to bring our concerns to the school committee and others. This year we will be asking Boston Public Schools to implement a multicultural curriculum, so we have the chance to see ourselves in our books and learn the true histories of our people. We all need to pass the word to our friends and to share what we were never taught in history class. Like Sociedad Latina does, shouldn’t our schools spend this day teaching students about Latinos and people that helped us in the past, not about a man who led a group of people to near-extinction?

Jerson Familia, Wilmer Quinones, Geraldine Vittini, Ehis Osifo

Sociedad Latina

Mission Hill

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