An open letter to Christopher Columbus
Dear Christopher Columbus,
Hey! It’s me, Rima! So, Chris. Happy You-Day. I know; it seems weird that I’m even bringing up Columbus Day. I mean this in a nice way, but Chris, you’re not, like, super relevant as a stand-alone figure anymore, you know? You know this. You probably stay awake in your bed and stare at the maggots on your ceiling in hell (do you have ceilings in hell? I do not know how this works), thinking, “It seems like just yesterday it was 1492. Now I am in hell and there are maggots on my ceiling—and not the edible kind, either! Where did the fans go?”
But you know, I would never forget about your special day. Mostly because, for whatever reason, every print and digital calendar that I have access to has “Columbus Day” marked on the first Monday of each October. And my mom’s favorite department stores are having Columbus Day sales! I bet I still have the Christopher Columbus picture book that the Scholastic Book Fair sent me in second grade to apologize for the delay in shipping my Junie B. Jones box set! You’re everywhere.
Sure, people sort of hate you now, but I think you’re misunderstood and unappreciated. I mean, you’ve taught me so many great things.
You’ve taught me that the world is not flat, that calling yourself the “Great Admiral of the Ocean” makes for a great Tinder bio and that you can get the king to give you money for a voyage as long as you don’t tell him that you’re honestly not sure what Asia is. You taught me that even if you spent your life destroying indigenous cultures, taking things that don’t belong to you and spreading your germy European diseases, you can still have your own holiday!
Most of all, you’ve taught me the importance of having a legacy. By still having a day marked on the calendar with your name, it reminds me that the legacy of colonialism still exists in America.
The best thing about Columbus Day is that we had a day off from kindergarten through 12th grade in your honor. My favorite hobby on this day off was to sleep in, read a book and work on assimilating into white culture. By middle school, I had become an expert in throwing out the Indian food my mom packed me for lunch, along with hiding from family at school plays and events, because I was embarrassed of their accents. Growing up, you reminded me that I should always strive for whiteness.
To this very day, I struggle with reconciling my pride as an Indian-American with the frustratingly instinctual need to whiten myself. I still can’t fully separate myself from the internal whispers telling me that’s it’s easier to bleach yourself until you’re so white that you don’t remember a point where you were un-white because then you don’t have to think about things or be angry or—
Sorry, man. I get really off track sometimes. Anyway, back to you, Chris.
I know you’re not perfect. I’d go as far as to say that you’ve done some messed up things that you probably should’ve talked to someone about beforehand, just to get a second opinion (re: smallpox).
But it’s okay! On the bright side, you’ve set the bar for a–holes everywhere. No one will ever feel bad for being a bad person because they can always remind themselves that they’re not you. For example, every time I glare at a screaming baby or yell at the person trying to sell me a New York Times subscription over the phone, I think to myself, “Hey, at least I’m not committing mass genocide right now.” And I go about my day with a clear conscience.
So, like, thanks man. I appreciate what you’ve done. Happy Christopher Columbus Day.