When did we forget that we all descended from somewhere else?
If you attended any school in an America you were taught that Columbus discovered America. They taught you that he had three ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. You might have even learned a catchy song about sailing in 1492 over an ocean of blue. If you were lucky, they surprised you later, by saying, just kidding. Leif Erickson beat Columbus to the punch, and got to America first.
Some of you may have had a childhood experience similar to my own. When I was growing up, school started in September. This meant Thanksgiving came less than two months later. Because of this, I remember hearing about the Pilgrims way before Columbus and Erickson. The pilgrims, were a pious, innocent group who came to America to escape religious persecution. They all dressed alike. They all wore black and white clothes. Then men wore flat top hats and the women wore bonnets. There were cool buckles on their shoes.
Through divine providence, the pilgrims, stepped off the Mayflower onto a rock, previously inscribed with the words, “Plymouth Rock” and America was born! At least, that’s how a portion of my 7-year-old brain retained that history for many years. When I eventually heard about Columbus getting to America first, I assumed he left the inscription on the rock, so the pilgrims new where to park their boat. As for Erickson, I always confused him with Thor, on my 1978 Underoos, so I thought he was more of a myth than fact.
When we get older, we rarely revisit these topics. We don’t learn about the darker side of these visits. We grow up with a child-like memory of how America came to be. That Leif and his Thor-looking compatriots were sent packing after they slaughtered a handful of natives in their sleep. Realizing they were outnumbered, they promptly left, leaving only minimal traces of their visit. Or, that, Columbus didn’t discover America, but merely aided in the conquering of it. There’s a reason there are no cool songs about 1793, where, under Columbus’ rule as governor, hundreds of thousands, and possibly over a million natives lost their lives to the European quest for gold and other riches.
As for the pilgrims; some came with noble intent, but others were criminals, indentured servants, and even illegitimate children being sent away by European nobility to avoid scandal. Additionally, when they arrived, they saw no fences, so they considered the land to be public domain. Then set about enslaving and killing Native Americans.
I grew up in New England with an idyllic sense of what it meant to be a New Englander. I wanted to believe Indians and Pilgrims shared a meal on Thanksgiving in peace and harmony. When I was older, and learned of these atrocities, I found them to be unfathomable, but forced myself to look deeper. When I moved west, I began to explore New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Montana and more. I visited battlefields, such as Little Big Horn. I have walked among people relegated to tiny reservations, in America’s search for gold and prosperity.
I am not sad to be an American, because I believe anyone who lives in this country is an American. I am sad to think about how we have treated each other and how we have kept so many secrets. The stories that get written are the ones that become fact. Native Americans were hampered by having only an oral history, so their stories have been pushed to the back. Now, we live in the age of fake news. But because the information is in print, albeit digital, it becomes fact at water coolers around the country and even the world.
We have the RIGHT to tolerance.
We have the RIGHT to exist without hurting others.
We have the RIGHT to make mistakes.
We have the RIGHT to protect ourselves when we are legitimately threatened.
We have the RIGHT to peacefully discuss what we do not agree with.
We have the RIGHT to walk away.
We have the RIGHT to be afraid.
We do NOT have the right to persecute others for being different or to alter history to cover up our mistakes.
We have a RESPONSIBILITY to love, respect and learn from one another.
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