By Leonard Adame
Jesus was always a bearded blond White guy who wore a flowing robe and held up his hand with his index and thumb touching each other. He looked peaceful even to my fourth-grade mind. I’d seen his portrait on the wall of catechism school and in a kids’ set of Bible books. Lots of pictures with sheep and other animals encircling Jesus as if they too were listening to one of his sermons. It all seemed good, comforting and natural. As I’d not been told otherwise, I assumed that Christianity was the only belief and that I needed to learn its lessons to get to heaven.
Columbus. Another White guy in a robe and beard. The pictures I saw in school showed him on a beach sticking a flag in the sand. But he had on armor over his clothes and he too had people standing around him—all of them armored and armed. My teacher said he was a Christian and an explorer. The teacher, herself blond and in nylons and heels (I do miss that—teachers these days are not nearly as dapper) and perfectly coiffed, made us recite the usual diddy: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
And so on.
Jesus and Columbus. Are they different? Jesus, the story goes, was after men’s souls to save them, to educate them about resurrection, or so the nun teaching us about the sacrament of Confirmation said. It was then I learned I was an inheritor of Original Sin. I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I left those classes feeling I’d done something wrong. I’m still trying to figure out how that translated to being loved by God. Even so, Jesus was about instilling a new order, one that required devotion and obedience. The alternative was a long-term visit to hell.
Columbus’ voyage, my sexy teacher (perhaps using that term bought me a ticket to hell?) said, brought about good things: Christianity, civilization and its benefits to heathens, and new lands and riches to the Christian realm that financed his trek. Columbus, then, brought forth a better chapter in the history of man (man is the term most Western civilization historians used back in the day).
Jesus’ lessons (many of which might be attributed to his having studied Buddhism) were mostly well and good. I’ve never been happy about the business of eternal damnation, though. But at least his arrival invalidated the injustice and corruption demanded by the Old Testament.
Columbus’ legacy is another story. His arrival spawned injustice, racism, genocide and a host of other ills still plaguing the world. My fourth-grade teacher never mentioned that he enslaved the Arawak and took a few back to Europe as proof of where he had been, or that his incessant search for gold and territories led to slavery in the New World. My teacher just beamed as if she were showing us the Holy Grail as she held up a portrait of Columbus, her hero.
In fact, Columbus was an egomaniac, a man who initialized the age of exploitation (she called it exploration) and imperialism (she said he brought civilization). She went on and on about how without Columbus’ arrival, we would have no United States or its forefathers or their Constitution (much of which was “borrowed” from the Iroquois Great Law of Peace).
I had to believe her. She was blond and White like Columbus, and if I learned anything at school even at that young age, it was that White people knew everything and that I had to listen to them. All of my teachers, until I got to college, were White. I had been acculturated to believe that only White people could teach, could be nurses, doctors and bosses at welfare and Social Security offices. Her admiration and explanation of Columbus’ endeavors and results all led to this conclusion: that the godliest people were White people, that all things of value were developed by White people.
Ironically, those things that followed Columbus to this hemisphere have conspired to perennially afflict us with perhaps the worst of ills: that some people aren’t human, aren’t worthy of respect and dignity, no matter their color. And those who are subhuman (the descendants of Cain, as some say) deserve their fate: segregation (ghettos, barrios), persecution by police, disenfranchisement, denial of employment and education opportunities, and perhaps the most visible these days, homelessness.
Clearly, Columbus, and my teacher because she was an admirer of Columbus’ legacy, would be immensely proud of Fresno’s current decimation of the modern version of expendable people. Columbus would feel good about getting rid of those who would impede progress (a la Mayor Ashley Swearengin) simply by their presence. He would sanction the invasion and destruction of the homes of the homeless (much like the invasions during the 15th century of other realms) to clear the way for palaces and, later, plantations.
Incredibly, many still see Columbus as a hero. This is what happens when an education system is controlled by the 1%, people who, like Columbus, have done and will do anything to acquire more riches and, most of all, even greater power.
Jesus and Columbus. Seems one failed and the other succeeded because too many Christians don’t do much to stop the annihilation of the homeless. Don’t do much to stop other social ills and injustices. If they do claim otherwise, I would ask, “OK, where’s the proof?” The evidence is clear that the other succeeded in that the things he represented still occur.
Leonard Adame has retired from teaching college English. He now plays drums in various bands, takes photographs, reads mystery novels to a fault and has published poetry in college anthologies. He most enjoys re-learning about human beings from his grandkids. Contact him at email@example.com.