On Monday, we officially celebrated Columbus Day. Decades ago, my Italian-American ancestors would lean out the windows of their New York tenement buildings and clang pots and pans together in recognition of the discovery of the Americas by their countryman in 1492. In contrast, I sat quietly at home, pondering a new theory.
According to the history books of the time, Christopher Columbus (the English version of the sailor’s name) led a small fleet of ships that happened to bump into Hispaniola, the island home of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Chris thought that the Caribe and Arowak people who inhabited the area were residents of India. Hence, the native peoples of the New World were called Indians.
When he decided that it was time to go back to Spain, the country for which he sailed, he left some of his crew behind to colonize the island. That’s why he’s been given credit for “discovering” America.
Before Columbus — For many decades, we’ve known that Vikings came to the New World 500 years before Columbus. After he was converted to Christianity, Leif Ericson was sent to spread the religion to the residents of Greenland (most likely, Inuits — better known to us as Eskimos). He set sail in 999, but his ships were blown off course, and he could see land to the west. A couple of years later, he decided to visit the unknown territory and eventually set foot on Vinland, now known as Newfoundland...