Monday, October 13, 2008

if you really break down the semantics, I'm an "American Indian"

Those of you who follow my twitters may have seen references to my most recent gaffe a few weeks ago. One of our clients is a Native American group on the East Coast, and I had been trying to get schedules in order to prepare for the insanity of the coming months. I must have been frazzled, what with my immediate boss leaving and my being left on my own to pick up the slack, when I emailed our client contact and asked, "Do you guys get Columbus Day off over there?"

The big boss overheard me saying I sent that email to confirm dates and smirked. "Um, do you honestly think they celebrate the guy who basically got the ball rolling on all that ethnic cleansing?" (From what I understand, his wife is part Native American.)

I was mortified.

Thank goodness our client contact was gracious about it. She wrote back: "Nope...But we do have Native American Day off (September 26th)."

I'm pretty sure I didn't offend her—and I do think being overly politically correct is annoying—but I usually try to keep people's feelings in mind before speaking. On top of that, it's particularly ridiculous that this foot-in-mouth incident was about Columbus Day, because I'm not the world's biggest fan of the holiday.

Let me be clear: Italian people are awesome. My distaste for Columbus Day has nothing to do with the majority of Italians or their traditions. Moreover, that country has produced some of the greatest accomplishments in history. Why can't we have a holiday to honor Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo or hell, Tiziano Ferro (what, I like some of his songs!)? I'd make layered Jell-O and parade around all day for people like that.

My beef with Chris is that:
a) He's STILL celebrated for making an arrogant mistake. (What really makes him better than Vasco da Gama* or any of the others? And what makes any of them better than the people whom they "found?")

It's because of him that there's still semantic confusion here about my people (hello, Jay-Z: "Asked her what tribe she with, red dot or feather") who really had nothing to do with the entire matter—it's not our fault ole boy couldn't find us!
And let's not forget about the serious issues about this such as mascots, reservation conditions and centuries of injustice that can be debated for decades. Trust me, I know: I spent years at the University of Illinois and have very strong feelings about the flimsy arguments supporting the "tradition" of Chief Illiniwek.

You're not going to find many people who respect tradition more than I do—though I was born and raised in the U.S., I hold my ancestral culture very dear; but at the end of the day, I'm about as "American" as we come. It's just that we all have to take a hard look at just what we're honoring, decide if it's really something we can be proud of, and if it isn't, we should do something about it—no matter how long it's been a part of "the tradition."

Just because it's "the way we've always done it" doesn't mean it's right.

*Partial disclosure: I, too, have conflicted feelings about the ties in my own lineage to 15th-century European explorers.


Becky said...

this reminds me of a Soprano's episode...

i say that if I gots to work, it ain't a holiday.

rye said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Very insightful.

Anonymous said...

The Italians have Columbus Day.

The Irish have St. Patricks's day

The Mexicans have Cinco de Mayo.

You will notice that the Germans got... nuthin.

SupaCoo said...

Cadiz, well written and I agree 100% with your sentiments. My company doesn't observe Columbus day, and I'd be curious how many companies do (outside of banks and post offices).

Guyana-Gyal said...

That's how I feel about pirates, I really DO NOT like making them romantic figures. When I said this to some friends, they said, but it's ALWAYS been that way. As Bob Marley sang in Freedom Song...