Some thoughts on Columbus Day

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This morning we got up early because my son was marching in the Columbus Day parade in NYC with his high school band. The band is a source of great pride in our community, and it has won prizes in years past for performances in the parade.

My son, however, had mixed feelings. He loves playing in the band and a trip into the city with his friends is always exciting, but he doesn’t value the holiday. He identifies not only as Latino and Guatemalan, but also as an Indigenous person. His story is his to tell, so I won’t tell it all here, but I will say that the one picture we have of his birth mother shows her wearing the traditional traje of an indigenous group.

Yesterday he asked me what I thought the world would be like if Native People had colonized Europe instead of the other way around. We talked about the possibilities, alternate realities, and the “guns, germs, and steel” reasons for Europe overwhelming the indigenous Americans.

This morning he put on a tee-shirt with Mayan iconography under his band jacket, a necklace with his name in Mayan, and a bracelet he’d gotten at a powwow hosted by the Wampanoag People on Martha’s Vineyard. He loaded his phone with Native American music and dug through the laundry to find his earbuds (he always forgets them in some pants pocket). He chose to wear his nearly waist length hair down. Some of this may have been adolescent posing, but some of it may be personal armor. I handed him a Cliff Bar and made sure he’d brushed his teeth and hair and dropped him off at the high school where the parking lot was rapidly filling up with other teens who look a lot like him.

We ran into a neighbor on the train, and a few other parents from our town on the parade route and settled in to watch. Finally our kids came through, and they were awesome, and we were proud, and then after a quick trip to the Museum of Natural History we sat on the train forever, stalled because of track work after a derailment.

Back home I checked in with my son (who’d traveled back separately with the band on the bus). He was impressed by the protesters—we’d seem them too: Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump outside of Trump tower, a group dogging Governor Cuomo about Indian Point nuclear power plant, and a batch of college students chanting and holding signs that said, “Stop Celebrating Genocide.” My daughter asked what genocide was, and I said something like killing a whole group of people, ethnic, racial, or religious, or killing enough of them to damage their culture, and she said, “Yeah, I see their point.” My son said he thought all the protesters were interesting, but he noticed that most of the parade watchers weren’t really celebrating Columbus, or his “discovery” at all—it was more of a celebration of being Italian.

It was a tiring day, but all in all I felt lucky. Lucky we lived near enough to NYC that my son could participate in a parade that provided so much thought provoking conversation, and lucky that my kids were so perceptive, so smart, and so interested in the world around them.