Campus Beat Reporter
What began as an anti-Columbus Day awareness demonstration soon sparked a counter protest as heated chants were exchanged between activist group El Congreso and conservative political organization Young Americans for Freedom in the Arbor Monday afternoon.
Members of El Congreso, a Chican@ and Latinx activist group on campus, were first to assemble in the Arbor Monday morning, lining the library walkway with signs reminding passersby of the not-so-celebrated history of Columbus day.
“It’s an anti-Columbus day event recognizing that Columbus was not a discoverer of these lands, the Americas,” said third year environmental studies major Jessica Fernandez. “In fact there were already people here. He took that land, murdered, enslaved and did all these horrific things to people. We just want to make sure people are aware. And also to let people know that other cities in the U.S. actually recognize it as an indigenous resistance day rather than Columbus Day.”
At noon, fourth year political science major Leif Barreto and two other Young Americans for Freedom members began a counter-protest, holding signs that said “Celebrate Western Civilization” and “Columbus did nothing wrong!” El Congreso members responded immediately with chants of, “Fuck what the calendars say, Columbus gets no holiday,” and, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He raped, enslaved, and murdered, too.”
Barreto — who assured critics that he was Latino and a dual citizen of Brazil — emphasized that he was “not offended because he was white” but protesting “to provide a different perspective.”
“I think it’s also a ridiculous thing to protest in general,” said Barreto. “They’re only arguing from one side and they don’t realize that there are other Native American tribes that were just as bad if not worse than Columbus. So I would actually argue that it’s slightly racist because it’s specifically targeting people of European white heritage.”
One passerby paused in front of the trio and asked Barreto if he would still be protesting if anti-Columbus day activists weren’t there.
“Nope,” said Barreto. “This is a counter-protest. There’d be no point.”
As “pointless” as it may be to those uninvolved, few holidays have suffered as much national controversy as Columbus Day. The movement to dismantle the title of Columbus Day has been an ongoing effort since it was first proposed in 1977 at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas.
Phoenix and Denver celebrated their first “Indigenous People’s Day” on Monday, joining cities like Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver, Portland and San Antonio who have likewise renamed the holiday, according to USA Today. The counter-movement has seen support as well, as Cincinnati and Oklahoma City Councils both rejected proposals this year to formally recognize Indigenous People’s Day.
Though counter-movement protests on campus have not occurred in the recent past, El Congreso does hold an awareness event on the contested day each year.
“It’s been anything from passing out flyers, hosting a demonstration or, like two years ago, they held a kill-in, where they literally show someone getting killed,” said Fernandez. “We do what we can to make sure that people understand the truth.”