Columbus Day, 12 October, has been celebrated throughout the Americas as the day when the New World was discovered by Christopher Columbus. In the United States, the Italian American organization, Knights of Columbus, have taken the holiday up as a point of ethnic pride while Native American communities do not see much to celebrate. Similarly, the attitudes toward this holiday differ throughout the Americas.
The celebration of 12 October as Fiesta de la Raza had been proposed in 1913 by Faustino Rodríguez-San Pedro of an organization called the Ibero-American Union,reaching the status of a Spanish national festival by this name in 1918. The date had long been celebrated unofficially by this and other titles throughout the Americas, the United States being the only country to use Columbus’ name.
The most common title used in the Americas is Día de la Raza, which translates literally as “Day of the Race,” which refers to the Hispanic Race. The word “Hispanic” had originally been coined to refer to the expansion of Spanish culture to all of its colonies throughout to world. After fighting for their independence from Spain, the people of the new American republics moved away from the use of the word due to its colonial overtones. But upon reflection around the time of the one hundred year celebrations of independence, a public discussion arose about recognizing that, above the nationality of distinct countries, there are linguistic and cultural commonalities that constitute the “Hispanic Race.”
Argentina was the first Latin American nation to declare, in 1917, the national holiday “in homage to Spain, progenitor of nations, to which it has given, with its blood and the harmony of its language, an immortal inheritance.” Although no official name for the 12 October holiday was pronounced, the popular name of Día de la Raza came into use. Other American republics soon followed suit.
With the passage of time, the mood has swung once again, with indigenous Amerindian groups and others that have been experiencing a resurgence of cultural pride pushing for recognition of how the focus on Spanish culture has marginalized their contributions to society. Costa Rica was the first in the region to change what they called the Día del Descubrimiento y la Raza to the Día de las Culturas, celebrating the coming together of Spanish, Indigenous, and Afro-Caribbean cultural heritages in their country. Then, in 2002, as an expression of the new Bolivarian Revolution, Hugo Chávez refocused the Venezuelan holiday, moving the date up by one day to 11 October and renaming it as the Day of Indigenous Resistance.
In the country that lead the way in celebrating Día de la Raza in the Americas, the National Institute Opposing Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism launched a campaign in 2007 to change the Argentine holiday to Day of American Cultural Diversity, and in 2010, Presidenta Cristina Fernández de Kirchner designated it as theDay of Respect for Cultural Diversity.
Elsewhere in the Americas:
Belize celebrates the holiday as Pan-American Day.
Canada celebrates Thanksgiving Day in the tradition of a harvest festival of thanks, as well as a giving thanks to God for delivering early explorers through treacherous waters and storms to the shores of Canada and also in the spirit of cooperation, on the second Monday in October, which of course also falls on the same day on which Columbus Day is officially observed.
Chile began celebrating the Day of Discovery of America in 1922, and in 2000, the name was changed to the Day of Discovery of Two Worlds.
In Mexico, the term “La Raza” is an expression of nationalistic pride, and the Día de la Raza celebrates this country’s unique synthesis of Spanish and multifaceted Indigenous cultures.
Uruguay celebrates Día de la Raza in the spirit of Pan-Americanism.
Rather than parades that re-enact the discovery of America by Europeans, the more progressive festivals of today are expressions of heritage as well as contemporary culture, bringing together drama, music, fashion, art, and sports with festivals celebrating such themes as traditional costumes, folkloric dance, Indigenous ceremonies, and Creole equestrian skills.
About the author: Julie R Butler is a traveler, blogger, freelance writer, and editor who has authored several books, self-published as eBooks, including Nine Months In Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). To contact Julie about writing or editing work, email: julierbutler [at] yahoo.com.
See more expat articles by Julie at Expat Daily News.