A Point of View © 1996 Hyperventilation and History

A Point of View © 1996
Hyperventilation and History.

By Paul V. Montesino, PhD, MBA, ICCP.


On October 10 of this month, part of this nation celebrates with a federal Holiday the exploits of Christopher Columbus when he visited for the first time with his three ships, Pinta, Niña and Santamaria, our Occidental Hemisphere.

And I say “part,” because there is another group that constantly demonizes his name and the destruction of Aboriginal lives from that point of arrival.

That there was destruction of life there is no doubt. Mr. Columbus brought with him all kinds of colonizers, the good, the bad, the uglier and a combination of the above. After he returned to Spain with chosen few of the “legal residents” of Hispaniola, as would be the name of the discovered land, the Spanish Crown bestowed honors on him, and the Catholic Church the “heavenly” responsibility, of Christianizing the inhabitants of the newly found territories at any cost. Any cost meant sticks and arrows if you opposed them.

But that was one version of the colonization of what eventually we would call America.

On November 24, that’s next month, another national Holiday will celebrate a different version of colonization: Thanksgiving. There was no Columbus-like person heading the famous Mayflower, the natives even had the courtesy to cut bread with the newcomers and eventually, of course, all hell broke loose, and the Pilgrims and their successors had a field day kicking butts from then on.

Which brings me to the title of this article and the word Hyperventilation: Why do we have two vocal “parts” hitting each other about the Columbus Holiday right to exist while the parts about Thanksgiving argue the same?

I propose that the original cultures of the Europeans and their current descendants and their prejudices may have something to do with it. Neither Columbus and his crew nor the Dutch and British that composed the 135 travelers of the Mayflower were looking into a Crystal ball trying to decipher the future or how History would end judging them. Some members of the tribes populating New England knew English already when the Pilgrims arrived. They had been in contact with other less famous settlers in the past. But our view of that period is clouded with the stormy events that followed.

Before we try to rewrite History, we must consider the historical context of those events and accept them for what they were, not just their consequences; humans who wanted a better life for themselves and their descendants. It is fair to describe the abuses, the mistakes, committed, but it is also necessary to accept the proposition that the sacred books that they brought with them to impose a new faith on the inhabitants of the new world were useless tools when it came time to apply them. To disown the past because we are not happy with its present is to ignore our present because we still don’t know the future.

As we look at the thousands of shoeless and poorly dressed human beings who try to reach our shores with the hope of a better life not in the past, not in the future, but simply today, we feel we are watching a true vision of what Columbus and the Pilgrims were not able to see but were able to feel.

A 15-meter-tall stone and bronze statue of a namesake of mine, certainly not a relation of mine, although I’d be proud to be related to him. Dominican Fray Antonio de Montesinos, Montesino, or Montezino (1475-1540), the sources are not clear about the spelling, stands tall and proud at the seafront of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.

He preached against the enslavement and poor treatment of the country’s indigenous people and saw early the sins committed by those we now find controversial. Columbus and the Spaniards who followed did not get or deserve a washing of their actions and I am not asking that we do so now either. Their sins had been identified before.

We should simply stop and consider those moments as tipping points in human history. And while we do that, let’s open our eyes and hearts to the many who arrive on our shores trying to get an opportunity to breathe freely and safely. Their lives, not the monuments we have raised, need our attention. If we can do it, then we can revisit those moments in our nation’s history and understand them. But remember, understanding is not forgetting. We need those memories to be reminded of our humanity.

And that is my point of view today. So long.

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