Adj Marshall

Reconsider Columbus Day

In Education, History on October 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm

“Commemorations sanitize further the messy history lived by the actors. They contribute to the contentious myth-making process that give history its more definite shapes: they help to create modify, or sanction the public meaning attached to a historical events deemed worthy of mass celebration. As rituals that package history for public consumption, commemorations play the numbers game to create a past that seems both more real and more elementary. “

~Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Last year I was inspired by this beautiful video asking people to reconsider Columbus Day by engaging in a critical view of the contentious holiday.  While the video urges us to visit ReconsiderColumbusday.org, a website that is no longer in operation, I will further challenge you to conduct your own research to learn more about this complex narrative.

Today many celebrate Columbus Day with little thought of  its origins. While there is much media attention given to why we should reconsider our celebration little attention is given to the historical construction of the holiday.

So how and when did Columbus Day come to have so much sway in the United States? The answer is an unlikely source.

The Tammany Society incorporated in New York 1789 consisted of gentlemen who’s taste for public attention via parades and lavish banquets inspired their celebration of any date that fit their calendar. Columbus’s landfall as they referred it was listed on their calendar as early as 1790. By what seems a historical accident the Tammany’s most lavish celebration occurred on October 12, 1792; 300 years after the initial first landing. Despite the societies promised to continue the celebration for years to come, the holiday all but disappeared again for nearly another 60 years, where it found a new cult following by the recently immigrated populations whom needed an icon to legitimize their importance within the American narrative of stodgy WASPS.

Both the Spanish, who has sponsored Columbus’s travels and the Italians, which Columbus was by birth latched on to the Columbus Day celebration sponsored by Sharpshooters Association of New York and spread it across the nation.  While 1866 marked the rebirth of the holiday and launched similar celebrations from Philadelphia and Boston to New Orleans and San Francisco the cult following was still minuscule with only 3,679 individuals claiming Italian heritage in 1850.

Silencing the Past

An unlikely population also took up the cause, the Irish American, which numbered 962,000 by 1850. Many Irish became parts of the Knights of Columbus by way of their Catholic association.  The Catholic religion which crossed national boundaries allowed these groups to find common ground outside their immigrant status in this Catholic male fraternal order. The Knights of Columbus which promoted the concept of citizen culture was just the right group to help these marginalized individuals find a home within the WASP nation.

The Catholics felt vindicated by their hero’s national recognition at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1892. By the 1890’s the US’s appropriation of Columbus had became a national phenomenon. In 1892 one of the 400 year Anniversary celebrations held in New Haven Connecticut attracted 40,000 people including 6,000 Knights of Columbus and was deemed a celebration of holiness and patriotism. As Columbus became a national icon he also became more white, this new white status  lent itself to those who claimed his history as their own including the marginalized  Italians, Spanish, and Irish Catholics.

This story holds particular importance for Rhode Island as it is the most Catholic state in the nation and the ethnic identity claimed by more people than any other is Italian.  This little bit of history I have provided was lent to me through Michael- Rolph Trouillot’s book Silencing the Past which documents the holes in the Haitian story of Revolution and Independence. The cliche “history is written by the winners” should serve as a continual reminder that history needs to persistently be reevaluated to determine the complex nature that makes up our current conceptualization of the past.

In 2009 Brown University chose to rename Columbus Day to Fall Weekend a protest to the nature of Christopher Columbus’ conquests and treatment of Native Americans. This was decayed by national icons such as Rush Limbaugh and the then Providence Mayor David Cicillini who stated ” it diminished the accomplishments of explorer Christopher Columbus, an important historical figure for Italian-Americans and As an Italian-American, I take particular offense to this decision”.

As Columbus day is reevaluated and actions taken to reconcile the new knowledge offenses are sure to be voiced.  We must remember what is true for you may not be true for me. The Columbus day we all learn about in school is one devoid of the negative repercussions that resulted from Columbus’ interactions with the Taino natives who were all but wiped out by the arrival of Columbus and his men on Hispaniola. As Columbus has become a national icon his image has been sanitized and his myth like status is all that remains.

I challenge you to complicate your own understanding of the days history take the plunge and learn more.

Interesting Articles

A 1770’s Education + A 1970’s Education = ?

In Art, Education, History on September 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm


“Goodness without knowledge is weak…yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous”

~Phillips Academy 1778 Constitution

Many of you were with me at the beginning of my journey… that is when I officially decided I was going to document my LEAP (Liberal Arts Education Plan) through the articles here on Learned Curiosity. If you were not, I have probably met you somewhere along this journey and would encourage you to check out its beginning. While I must admit I have all but ignored the documentation these past few months my learning continues to prevail. In journeying, my physical and cultural awareness has been tested inspiring my intellectual and spiritual centers. I have made it across the country and back twice by train, plane and buss, for trainings, radical marching band events, rock-climbing adventures, hiking, adventures, back packing adventures, family history research quests and of course… to share my wealth of knowledge by serving as an educational facilitator.

When I first began contemplating my LEAP over 8 months ago I was grappling with the questions of “What does it mean to be educated?” “What is a valuable education?” and “Where does one find such an education?” In choosing my LEAP I was eschewing the Americentric educational view which values concrete classrooms with credentialed instructors and standardized outcomes. Instead I was choosing community, collaboration and creativity to serve as my guides. Sir Ken Robinson, a leading thinker in the field of educational reform, states “We have to think differently about human capacity, we have to get over this old conception of ours about academic, nonacademic, abstract, theoretical, vocational” and recognize that “most great learning happens in groups, and that “collaboration is the stuff of growth”. Check out the animation below Changing Educational Paradigms.

Choosing my LEAP over graduate school last year was essential in staying true to my values. I learned long ago that by serving as an active participant in my own education rather than a passive one I could come to a more in depth understanding of our global community. Education for me, has always extended beyond the confines of a classroom, necessitating a deep-rooted engagement with community.  So when I chose to look at graduate programs this year I only selected ones that valued the expertise of community and creativity as much as I did.

I applied to two institutions neither program having exactly what I was looking for… and the truth be told I don’t believe any one program could. Each was uniquely skilled in their field of expertise and allowed enough freedom for students to explore varying interests. I felt I could be comfortable at either. Being accepted to both programs allowed me the freedom to choose the educational program best fit for me… only I couldn’t.  In the end I decided that only by creating my own blend of the two programs would I be able to delve into the issues I hope to pursue.

Which leads us to today the day before I begin my studies at both World Learning’s Graduate School for International Training (SIT) in Conflict Transformation (Brattleboro VT) and Brown Universities M.A. in Public Humanities (Providence RI).  Combined, these two institutions will give me the international perspective on the positive use of arts in conflict situations while  allowing me the resources and knowledge to understand arts impact on social interactions.  As the year moves on I will be pursuing studies focused on how marginalized communities (most likely international ones) utilize the arts in their personal struggles for justice.

HONK A History of Musicianship and Community

In Art, History, Music on March 15, 2011 at 9:06 pm
HONK TX !

No Noise is Illegal !

~Bread and Puppet Theater

In only one city in Texas would you expect to find 20 alternative, radical, activist, community, brass, marching bands. This year marked the first annual HONK TX festival held the weekend before SXSW March 11-13th in public spaces across Austin.

A Combined Effort !

While this year marked the first Annual HONK TX festival, the concept of gathering activist marching bands to celebrate the community-centered union of art, activism and music finds its roots here on the east coast.

The very first HONK! made its debut on Columbus Day weekend of 2006 in Somerville MA, a community just outside the city limits of Boston. The concept of HONK was envisioned by local activist band, The Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band (SLAPS), who “saw the need for a gathering of like-minded souls interested in applying the joy of music to the work of promoting peace, social justice, and civic engagement.” That year a dozen socially conscious street bands from across the US and Canada descended upon Somerville and Cambridge to perform in Davis and Harvard Square.

The ERB in TX!

HONK Fest 2006 signaled the beginning of a tradition that would spread far and wide across the states. By HONK Fest 2009,  more than 29 bands were overflowing the streets of Somerville spreading the message of music, community, and access to public space. Between 2006 and 2010, HONKS! arose here in Providence (PRONK!), Brooklyn (BONK!), Seattle (HONK! Fest West), and now Austin (HONK! TX).

While each HONK! Festival and further each HONK Band’s structure mission and goals can vary widely, they all share a commitment to core values including the:

  • Creation of inclusive communities valuing diversity of all forms: not just the conventions of age, gender, class and orientation – but background, upbringing, and for many, level of musical experience.
  • Transformation of everyday locations into organic stages where the line between audience and performers is dissolved.
  •  Demonstration of the potential for the creative use of our public spaces without the need for amplification or artificial stages.
  • Celebration, serving as the soundtrack for community gardens, public school yards, puppet shows, pride parades, worker rallies, peace marches and neighborhood fundraisers.

Celebrating sleep with my Canadian friends

The shared values of the growing activist marching band moment are central in creating the environment that is HONK! Regardless of the city each HONK serves as a space where we as individuals learn and grow from each other musically, personally, politically, socially, and culturally.

This years ERB appearance at HONK TX represents the bands 6th HONK event. With 2 HONK, 2 PRONK, and 1 HONK Fest West under our belt we headed south of the Mason Dixon Line to make our appearance as part of HONK! TX. As the closing band of the entire weekend we were given the monumental task of bringing together the many elements that represent HONK! Staying true to the inclusive communal nature that is the HONK! experience we invited all 20 bands in attendance to join us on stage for our closing song Deep in the Heart of Texas. Carrying the message of hope, unity, and social change in our hearts and music we closed the weekend together on stage as One Band with One Sound conveying to our audience and ourselves the transformational nature that is HONK!

Sites of Interest:

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