Sunday, September 16, 2007

Howard Zinn and Christopher Columbus

Mel-O-Toons: Christopher Columbus

In class we learned the truth about Christopher Columbus’ journey to find America through our reading of Howard Zinn’s book titled A People’s History of the United States. We learned that what we were taught in school wasn’t exactly the truth. So for my first media portfolio paper I found a cartoon that is much like something we would have watched in grade school about Columbus’ voyage. The reason why I chose to do this reading from class and compare it to what we were taught in school was because there is a striking difference. Also, from reading Zinn’s article I learned something new that was completely different from what I thought was the truth for my whole life. Therefore, I thought it would be very interesting to compare what I have learned in grade school and what Zinn shares in his book.
First of all, in the cartoon, it starts off by describing the Indians as having reddish-brown skin and also points out that the Europeans had white skin. This struck me as something you wouldn’t point out or verbally say in such a video. I feel as though we are teaching young children to classify people based on their skin tone. This is racism in every aspect of the word I feel like and I don’t think it should have been pointed out in the video. I think it would have been fine to have the Indians with reddish-brown skin and the Europeans with white skin, but I did not find it necessary to point it out in the video.
In the video they play upbeat music and Columbus sings about his journey. They talk about Columbus believing that the world is round and asking for the king and queen of Spain to help pay for his trip. The video talks about the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, which was a big important part of what we learned in grade school. The video shows that the crews on the ships were happy and excited at first and then once the trip continued to drag on, they wanted to take matters into their own hands. None of this was mentioned in Zinn’s article. However, they mention that one of the men saw a branch with fresh berries on it floating in the water which was a sign of land. This was also mentioned in Zinn’s article and then Zinn continues to say that the first man to see land was suppose to get a yearly pension of ten thousand maravedis for life, and a sailor named Rodrigo spotted land but Columbus claimed that he saw in the night before. Being that this is something negative that Columbus did, it is not mentioned in the video or in our grade school classes.
Next in the video, they talk about Columbus and his crew meeting the Indians and saying how they were so nice and gave them a lot of gifts. This too is mentioned in Zinn’s article however, Zinn further explains that this lead to enormous consequences. Columbus took advantage of the Indians by taking some of them as prisoners aboard his ship because he insisted that they help him find the source of gold that he was looking for. These Indians were not treated well aboard these ships and many of them ended up dying. However, in the video and in grade school we were not made aware of any of this. We were led to believe that the Indians and Columbus were close friends.
The video also talks about Columbus’ other trips that he took after he returned back to Spain and got more ships and more people to help him continue to find gold and land. The video however does not mention the other motive that Columbus was looking for on this trip which was slaves. Zinn states that Columbus went from island to island taking Indians captive. Columbus rounded up fifteen hundred slaves and from those fifteen hundred he picked the best five hundred men and loaded them onto his ships to head back to Spain. However, due to the terrible living conditions on the ships only two hundred slaves made it back to Spain alive.
The video then ends with by portraying Columbus as a hero and that we celebrate Columbus Day every year because of the great things he did. There is no mention in the video of about all of the people he killed in the process of looking for gold and land.
I think it is sad that we portray Columbus as a hero without knowing what he had to do to accomplish what he did. I think that if we are going to celebrate Columbus Day every year, we should know the truth about what he did. I don’t, however, think that we should teach all of the gruesome details to children in grade school, but I do think that it needs to be taught in junior high and high school. When I found out what really happened I felt betrayed because I was not taught the truth so I think it is important that the truth be taught.

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