Posted by: Oksana Kluchko, Journalist/Embassy Community Member
One can argue that Columbus Day has come to symbolize the power of thinking “outside the box.” In Christopher Columbus’ day and age, “outside the box” meant thinking the world was round. In the fifteenth century, despite all the advances in learning, science, and contact with other world cultures, most people still believed the world was flat.
The Italian adventurer Christopher Columbus was bold enough to argue otherwise. Failing to convince his Italian sovereign, as well as the kings of Portugal and England, Christopher Columbus was persistent. He finally convinced the Queen of Spain to finance an expedition of great importance. At that time, spice merchants were in search of an easier route to Asia. The most common route was sailing completely around Africa, past the Cape of Good Hope, before continuing eastward.
Columbus’ argument was simple – if the world is indeed round, then logic dictated that sailing directly west would lead to the rich treasures of India and Asia. Such a discovery would bring new opportunities of wealth to Spain. The Queen of Spain was so impressed with his argument that she promised him a 10% share of the wealth he brought to Spain as a result of his discoveries.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus and ninety men set sail on the flagship Santa Maria, with other ships, the Nina and the Pinta. After two months, the crew became increasing restless and almost threatened to mutiny. But Columbus appealed to them with promises of great wealth and on October 11th the crew of the Santa Maria sighted land off of a small island.
Of course, when the men landed on what was actually off the coast of North America, they were bewildered. Expecting to be greeted by what they believed was a tribe from eastern India, they referred to these new found natives as “Indians.” When they learned from the natives that the island had no relation to India, Columbus and his men christened the island San Salvador and claimed it on behalf of Spain. The rest is history.
Interestingly, it was the Italian-American community in New York City that first initiated the observance of Columbus Day in the 1860s. Almost 80 years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially proclaimed Columbus Day as a national holiday.