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I was invited to celebrate ‘Columbus Day.’ This is what I answered

‘Day of the Indigenous, Black and Popular Resistance.’ Illustration by Carlos Lara

On October 5, I received an invitation from the Embassy of Spain in my country, El Salvador, to celebrate the National Day of Spain on October 12. I was invited to a concert by the El Salvador Symphony Orchestra at the Teatro de San Salvador, an event that was also organized by the Ministry of Culture. But for me, there is nothing to celebrate on this day.

For years, October 12 has been celebrated in Spain and Latin America as the “Día de la Raza” (Day of the Race), known over time as “Hispanic Day” or, since 1987, the “National Day of Spain” and, in the United States, Columbus Day. On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus first sighted land and arrived on the Caribbean island of Guanahaní. Some celebrate the so-called “discovery” of the Americas and the “exchange” of cultures, languages and religion, rather than acknowledging their imposition. For us, the Indigenous, Black and Afro-descendant people who have been massacred and enslaved, and who continue to resist the consequences of neo-colonization, the arrival of Christopher Columbus is nothing to celebrate.

Thus, in several countries, the day of celebrating the invasion has changed to the Day of Black, Indigenous and Popular Resistance. As members of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Salvadoran organizations, we join this commemoration and the adoption of this name, as it conveys the meaning this date has for us, reflecting on what the arrival of Europeans in the territory currently called America has caused and the consequences which continue to plague our populations.

This is the response I sent to the Embassy, detailing my position, supported also by the AFROOS (Salvadoran Afro-Descendants Organization) and many other people who feel the same as I do:  

San Salvador, 8 de octubre de 2021

Señor embajador y representantes del gobierno de España en El Salvador.

He recibido la invitación de parte de ustedes para asistir a la celebración del ‘Día Nacional de España’ este próximo 12 de octubre en el Teatro Nacional de San Salvador.

Al recibirla fue inevitable sentir incomodidad y deseo de expresar una respuesta que espero sea tomada con respeto y seriedad de parte de ustedes. 

Soy una persona que está en el proceso de reconocimiento y rescate del legado africano e indígena tanto a nivel personal como a nivel colectivo y cultural. Desde la organización a la que pertenezco trabajamos por erradicar el racismo que se manifiesta día a día en nuestro país resultado de siglos de institucionalización e interiorización, y que comenzó su proceso desde el 12 de octubre de 1492, fecha que celebran orgullosamente cada año y que ha tenido diferentes nombres con el pasar del tiempo tales como: “Día de la Hispanidad”, “Día de la raza” y que desde 1987 es llamado “Día Nacional de España”, algo que resulta ser una burla y ofensa para nuestros pueblos originarios del actual territorio llamado América y para los pueblos africanos que fueron esclavizados desde inicios del siglo XVI. Por ello, varios países han cambiado el nombre y el sentido de dicha fecha, para reivindicar la dignidad de nuestros pueblos originarios. 

Dejo claro que no estoy expresando ni odio ni rechazo hacia ustedes, tampoco significa que deje de reconocer los aportes culturales hechos por su pueblo y que son parte de la vida cotidiana actual de nuestro país. Sin embargo, reconozco que la celebración de tal fecha, y conociendo su motivo, es parte de ese racismo que nuestras poblaciones indígenas y afrodescendientes siguen viviendo. Pasar esta hoja de la historia sin hacer una crítica hacia ello no abona a la solución del problema, al contrario lo sigue manteniendo vivo.

Sueño con el día en que remuevan del Palacio Nacional las figuras de Colón, Isabel y Carlos V, como muestra de respeto hacia nuestras poblaciones originarias y afrodescendientes, que si bien es cierto no repara el daño causado, es parte de la construcción de una nueva historia que dé dignidad a quienes por siglos se les ha sido arrebata. 

No admito respuesta de parte de ustedes, a menos que sea la noticia que dicha celebración ya no será realizada de aquí en adelante en nuestro país. 

Me despido sin más que agregar, sinceramente: 

Carlos Lara

San Salvador, October 8, 2021

Mr. Ambassador and representatives of the government of Spain in El Salvador.

I have received your invitation to attend the celebration of the ‘National Day of Spain’ this coming October 12 at the National Theater of San Salvador.

Upon receiving it, it was inevitable for me to feel discomfort and a desire to express an answer that I hope you will receive with respect and seriousness.

I am a person in the process of recognizing and rescuing the African and Indigenous legacy, personally, collectively and culturally. I belong to an organization working to eradicate the racism that manifests itself every day in our country as a result of centuries of institutionalization and internalization/assimilation, since October 12, 1492. This date has been proudly celebrated every year and has had different names, such as: “Hispanic Day”, “Day of the Race” and, since 1987, “National Day of Spain”—which is a mockery and offense to our Indigenous peoples of the territory currently called America and to the African peoples who were enslaved since the early 16th century. Therefore, several countries have changed the name and meaning of that date, to claim the dignity of our Indigenous peoples.

I want to make it clear that I am not expressing hatred or rejection towards you, nor does it mean to stop recognizing the cultural contributions made by your people that are part of the current daily life of our country. However, I recognize that the celebration of such a date, and knowing its motive, is part of that racism that our indigenous and Afro-descendant populations continue to experience.  Marking this day in history without critiquing it does not contribute to the solution of the problem, on the contrary, it perpetuates it.

I dream of the day when the statues of Columbus, Isabella and Charles V are removed from the National Palace, as a sign of respect for our original and Afro-descendant populations. And, although it is true that this does not repair the damage caused, it is part of building a new history that gives dignity to those who have been deprived for centuries.

I do not accept a response from you, unless it is news that such a celebration will no longer be held in our country.

I conclude without further ado,

Sincerely,

Carlos Lara

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