Page 164 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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charges of private peculation and evidence of public indifference.
Spokesmen for Native Americans were reminding the rest of
Americans that they were here first, and did not need to be discov­
ered. African Americans were demanding reparations for the en­
slavement of their ancestors. Ecologists were documenting the
devastation wrought on the natural environment when the pio­
neers hacked their way across the continent, galvanizing a new
generation of environmentalists, some of whom anachronistically
charged Columbus with crimes against the planet. Immobilized by
conflicting political currents, stymied by customs regulations that
kept proposed exhibits from entering the country, their purpose
muddled by a plethora of inconsequential proposals such as marry­
ing a statue of Columbus to the Statue of Liberty, organizers of
celebrations tempered their approach. An early sign of changing
times was elimination of the ethnocentric phrase “discovery of
America” in favor of “encounter between two worlds,” signifying
the presence of more than one party to this historic event. Despite
the kinder and gentler signifier (too kind, too gentle to describe the
actual events) some groups dropped their plans altogether when
confronted by conflicting opinions they could not reconcile.
Interestingly, the public schools were a step ahead of the general
public in reassessing the meaning of the Encounter. “Once upon a
Genocide . . . ”was the headline of a review of Columbus literature
for children published in 1990.2The same issue advertised its pub­
lication,
Rethinking Columbus. Essaysand resources. . .
“to help teach­
ers, students, and parents provide a critical, pro-Native perspective
on the Columbus quincentenary.” In the October 1, 1990 issue of
The Bulletin
of Duluth Public Schools, an author identified as an
“American Indian Resource Teacher” (the job description was it­
self an eye-opener) offered a “New Perspective on Columbus.”
Theological grounds for this reassessment were sketched by Hans
1. “Goodbye, Columbus” in NYR 22 November 1990, reviews Alejo Car-
pentier,
The Harp and the Shadow,
Abel Posse,
The Dogs of Paradise,
and Kirk­
patrick Sale,
The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian
Legacy
2. Rethinking Schools,
Milwaukee, October/November 1990.