Celebrating the "Cosmic Breed"

Art Remillard
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.


Kristen said…
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Mike Pasquier said…
Thanks for the post, Art. As Stevens-Arroyo notes, Columbus Day is indeed contested. I'm reminded of the frequent contrast between between Columbus--the oppressor of Native Americans--and Bartolome de las Casas--the supposed champion of Indian rights. Daniel Castro's _Another Face of Empire: Bartolome de las Casas, Indigenous Rights, and Ecclesiastical Imperialism_ (Duke Univ. Press 2007) revisits the role of Las Casas in the the Spanish oppression of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Or, as the title more than suggests, he represented "another face of empire."
Art Remillard said…
Interesting book, I'll need to check it out. I just Googled las Casas and came by this site: http://www.lascasas.org/. The opening page reads:

"This site reflects heightened contemporary interest in Bartolomé de Las Casas. It provides information, research, and analysis of the life and writings of the person who has become a symbol of justice and human rights in Latin America and elsewhere."

Symbol conflict, indeed.

On another Christian hybridity note, I'm reminded of the other noteworthy Spanish "friend" to the Indians, Cabeza de Vaca. My hazy impression is that he lived out las Casas's vision of peaceful evangelization--perhaps, in light of Castro's book, even better than las Casas himself. But I can't say whether Cabeza de Vaca was really evangelizing, or just surviving.

In any case, I imagine that his name and memory influenced the popular imagination of the American South and Southwest. What story could a historian tell about what Cabeza de Vaca left behind? Perhaps that story has already been told, and I just don't know about it. Entirely possible. If not, though, it could be a good one.
Kelly J. Baker said…
In the 1890s, the Knights of Columbus sponsored a series of murals at Notre Dame to showcase their American identity. Of course, Columbus was one of the subjects, and interestingly, instead of hybridity, this particular mural attempted to place Catholics in the American story and show the significance of the faith to the development of nation. Columbus applied in another situation perhaps.

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