Why Celebrate El Día de la Raza?
Reflections on the 12th day of October
The first recorded celebration of Columbus Day in the United States was October 12, 1792. A New York City political organization known as Tammany Hall commemorated the 300th anniversary of Cristóbal Colón’s arrival to the Américas in 1492, albeit by error.
In 1892, during the 400th anniversary, President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed the first official Columbus Day holiday in the United States. This was an effort to de-escalate a rising tension within the New Orleans community after a mob of vigilantes, fired up by anti-immigrant sentiment, lynched eleven Italian immigrants in 1891. Still, the Harrison administration had to dress up the proclamation as an encouragement to all local communities to celebrate the “discovery of América” by “the pioneer of progress and enlightenment.”
Later, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt designated Columbus Day as a federal holiday, however, there are two different dates of this occurrence, October 1934 and 1937. This was nearly 30 years after the Knights of Columbus lobbied state legislatures to declare October 12 a legal holiday. Today, many observe the holiday as an honor to Colón’s explorative achievement, others, specifically Italian-Americans, observe it as a way to celebrate their heritage.
When & why the change to El Día de la Raza?
Backpedal to 1925, when José Vasconcelos Calderón, a Mexican writer, philosopher, and politician, first promoted the celebration of El Día de la Raza in his literary work titled La Raza Cósmica. As the head of the Secretariat of Public Education, Vasconcelos describes a fifth race emerging on the American continent from the blending of Indigenous and European blood, with the mission of creating a new era of thought and knowledge. The knowledge that “racialist ideologies are only created to validate, explain, and justify ethnic superiority and to repress others.”
Columbus Day has a different meaning to various cultures, in particular, it has an hostile and painful meaning to the Indigenous Peoples in the Américas and abroad. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities have lost their lands, lost lives, have been enslaved, and whose cultures have been destroyed due to the lie that invented racism.
Why celebrate El Día de la Raza?
Rethinking how we celebrate the history of the Américas is worth thought and reflection, and highly needed. A power grab, colonial takeover, that has led to death, discrimination, and destruction from 1492 until today is not worth a national celebration. However, an intentional movement to acknowledge the lie and violence it has justified is a small step to becoming an ally, stepping into the work of becoming an antiracist.
El Día de la Raza is a celebration of a human race, one that cultivates “honor, respect, and dignity” of all cultures and their diverse community members.