A California state lawmaker has proposed replacing Columbus Day with Native American Day and officially designating it a state holiday.
Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) has introduced a bill, AB 55, that seeks to replace the state holiday commemorating Christopher Columbus' 1492 arrival in the Americas with one honoring the continent's indigenous inhabitants.
AB 55 states:
"In order to recognize the genocide inflicted upon Native Americans and their removal from their ancestral lands, and to acknowledge the numerous contributions made by Native Americans to California and the nation, the second Monday in October, previously known as Columbus Day, shall be known as Native American Day."
Hernandez issued a statement in which he lamented the fact that "Columbus Day is still celebrated in California, despite the egregious actions taken against Native American people."
The statement said that AB 55 is "inspired by the recognition that the so-called discovery of the Americas by Columbus eventually led to the genocide of Native Americans."
"This bill hence provides the proper respect and recognition to our Native American nations."
Christopher Columbus, who hailed from the Republic of Genoa, is still widely credited with discovering the Americas on an epic 1492 transatlantic voyage in search of India. But the term "discover" is inaccurate because indigenous people were already living here and Viking explorers had already established settlements in what is today Canada some 500 years before Columbus.
But even more controversial than the argument over the word "discover" is the shocking brutality and devastating diseases unleashed upon Native Americans by the European newcomers. Columbus wrote this in his diary regarding the Arawak people he encountered upon landing in the Bahamas:
"They... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawk's bells. They willingly traded everything they owned... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... They would make fine servants... With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."
According to the late historian Howard Zinn, within two years of Columbus' arrival, half of the 250,000 Arawaks were dead. Many of the rest were enslaved, and their nation's riches were plundered. It was the beginning of a genocide that would last until the 20th century. The pre-European Native American population of an estimated 12 million would be reduced by 95 percent over four centuries.
Still, there are those who defend honoring Columbus with a holiday.
"As a proud fifth-generation Italian American, I support Columbus Day and the contributions of Italians to California," state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) told the Los Angeles Times.