At the dawn of the seventh century, Gregory the Great exhorted missionary monk to "baptize" the pagan customs of the countryside. Destroy the idols, he advised, but leave the temples. This sort of symbolic assimilation has continued to influence Christian religious practices. Believers appropriate potentially objectionable items and refashion them to their own liking. Consider how Latin Americans seem to have baptized Columbus Day. On his Washington Post blog, “Catholic America,” Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo explains…
Columbus Day is now "contested" - as current terminology would have it. Some
view with joy the anniversary of the navigator's historic landing in part of the
Bahamas. Others see October 12 as a day to mark the beginning of oppression,
enslavement and genocide. Both sides claim Catholic America as their
I rest with the Latin American version of Columbus Day: Día de la Raza. We celebrate not so much the event as its result:-- a "new breed" within the human family. ("Raza" doesn't mean "race" in quite the same way as in English.) Whatever Columbus' intentions or mistakes, Latin America under Spain began to tolerate, legalize and eventually encourage racial intermarriage. Centuries later, the Mexican philosopher, José Vasconcelos, described us as "La Raza Cósmica" (The Cosmic Breed), because we have virtually all of the world's skin colors in our demographic rainbow: white, black, red and yellow.
Racial mixture is what we Latinos and Latinas celebrate on October 12th. As the Puerto Rican patriot Pedro Albizu Campos proclaimed, there is a distinctive Catholic pride in this holiday. Unlike so much of Protestant North America where racial mixing was looked down upon, Catholic Latin America officially recognized the equality of races at the dawn of modern history. I am happy to celebrate Columbus Day by thanking God for my Puerto Rican-Italian nephews and nieces. Let's make October 12 a day for the living, not for the dead.