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Columbus Day / Day of Race

Columbus Day / Day of Race (October 12th)

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Columbus Day is one of several names given to October 12, the day that commemorates the navigation and exploration of the American continent by Christopher Columbus and his crew in 1492. This day is remembered in much of Latin America, Spain and the United States. Its origin dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, initially spontaneously and unofficially, to commemorate the new cultural identity, product of the meeting and fusion between the indigenous peoples of America and the Spanish conquerors, in addition to the enhancement of the Hispanic-American cultural heritage.

The arrival of Europeans to America meant the exchange between both continents of many foods and new riches. Thanks to the incorporation of original products from America, such as potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and cocoa, the diet of Europeans became more varied. America had excellent lands to grow products that were not available in Europe, such as sugar, tobacco, and coffee. On the other hand, the Europeans benefited from the riches of this new territory; But this did not fully benefit the indigenous populations as they were stripped of their wealth and their beliefs.

Although the name “Columbus Day” is the most popular today, the official name often varies from country to country. In turn, some countries have chosen to clearly vindicate the positions of the native peoples and have decided to commemorate this date as the “Day of indigenous resistance”

“A day like today, but 1492. The Natives of our continent discovered: that they were Indians; who lived in America; that they were naked; that they owed obedience to a king and queen from another world; that there was a god and a sky “
Eduardo Galeano – Journalist

In Mexico, in the 1980s there was a wide debate on which of two concepts would be the most appropriate: “Invention of America” ​​or “Encounter of Two Cultures”, proposed by two Mexican historians, with the second proposal gaining more affinity. The important point in the celebration of the “Encounter of Two Cultures” is that it is based on a historical event on a world scale: it is possible to document for the first time how the inhabitants of the European continent came into contact with the inhabitants of the American continent. This meeting gave rise to a fusion of cultures and the birth of a Spanish-American civilization.

This celebration is not only commemorated in Mexico, but in most of the American countries and Spain, although with different names, but all of them evoke the historical moment of the Conquest. In the particular case of Mexico, talking about the background of October 12 brings us closer to a wealth of historical data on the social, economic and political environment of the time.

For example, on September 24, 1892, during the Porfiriato, the Congress of the Union decreed October 12 as a national holiday. Subsequently, in 1917 to this date it was called Columbus Day at the initiative of President Venustiano Carranza (1859-1920) who, in addition, contributed to the history of Mexico and human rights with the proclamation of the Political Constitution of the United States. Mexicans which, after a series of reforms, continues to this day. It recognized the rights of peasants and workers; made various labor reforms and established the statutes for the minimum wage, among many other aspects.

On Carranza’s death, Alvaro Obregon assumed the presidency, during his administration (1920-1924), in addition to contributing to the advancement of the nation, he joined collaborators who also left an important legacy for Mexico. In this case, it is the appointment of Jose Vasconcelos as Secretary of Education, who promoted educational reforms and cultural development by creating more than 1000 rural schools and 2000 public libraries, as part of the rights of society at that time, and was remembers him for having instituted the celebration of October 12 from 1928.

Finally, Emilio Portes Gil (1890-1978) as the last interim president, made this civic celebration official that on October 10, 1929, Congress of the Union approved to declare October 12 as a national holiday, calling it Day of the Race and Anniversary of Discovery from America.

Several sectors criticize the celebration of this day arguing that it is not entirely true that the date began the meeting of two cultures, but that, instead, there was a process of conquest by Europeans destroying Native American cultures. The process led to a looting of natural resources and precious metals. According to these positions, Columbus Day is a reminder of the imposition of a culture, laws, customs, among others that did not consider those already present in the inhabitants of the new continent.

At present, although in Mexico the Day of the Race has always had a meaning associated with miscegenation and syncretism, in recent years, along with many Latin American countries, this date has been designated as the Day of Indigenous Resistance.  From north to south of the continent, indigenous peoples claim their territorial and agrarian rights, defend their natural resources, lands, cultural identities, languages ​​and their self-determination.

This interest and change of perspective forced the States and the United Nations itself to recognize the cultural and ethnic plurality of societies (declared the “Decade of Indigenous Peoples” in 1995-2004). On the other hand, and the most recent event that we found, is that the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that proclaims the period 2022-2032 as the Decade of Indigenous Languages ​​and this time Mexico will host the High Level event in the that the international community will define the goals and actions to be developed during this Decade.


National Institute of Anthropology and History
Agrifood and Fisheries Information Service
National Commission for Human Rights