Ring should not honor a man who oppressed Native Americans
Having heard opinions that the image of Columbus should remain on the Class of 1992 ring to represent the "spirit of exploration and discovery" at MIT despite the "trivial" concerns of the Native American students at MIT, I would like to share with the ring committee and the MIT community the Hatuai (Taino-speaking Arawaks of Cuba) history of Columbus' travels. This history has been passed down by my ancestors over 500 years and proves how unworthy Columbus is of his '`institutionalized" image.
First, the popular history of Columbus contains many myths, most of which are believed only in the United States. One of the most popular myths is that Columbus set sail to prove that the world was round. Actually, scholars had accepted the "roundness" of the earth ever since Plato popularized Aristotle's ideas. Another popular myth is that Columbus had difficulty financing his voyage to the far east because of his belief in a round world and that Queen Isabella came to his financial rescue by pawning her jewels. The true reason why Columbus had difficulty financing his voyage is that scholars did not trust his assumption about the width of the Atlantic. Scholars at the time knew that the earth was much larger than Columbus believed. The popular myth that the sophomore ring committee has chosen to believe is that Columbus' goal in sailing to the Far East was to discover a new route in the "spirit of exploration and discovery." Columbus' true plan was to sail to the Far East and then force the Chinese into mining for precious stones and metals. And despite popular belief, Queen Isabella did not pawn her jewels to finance Columbus' voyage, but she did use government funds to help Columbus so that he would give her a portion of the precious stones that he might acquire.
When Columbus reached the Carribbean, he assumed that he had landed off the coast of India because of the physical appearance of the Native Americans. Columbus quickly discovered that the Carribbean natives were so peaceful that they could be controlled simply by the threat of the sword. Under pressure to bring riches back to Spain, Columbus forced the Arawaks of Haiti to mine for gold. Those who did not work to the satisfaction of the Spaniards had a limb cut off as an example to the other Arawaks. When Columbus left Haiti for Cuba, almost the entire Arawak population on Haiti had been mutilated or murdered. Columbus forced those who survived onto his ships in hopes of increasing his profits by selling the Arawaks as slaves in Spain. A few Arawaks were able to escape from the Spanish in order to warn the Hatuai Arawaks of the coming danger.
When Columbus reached Cuba, he was met by the leader of the Hatuai. Columbus gave the leader the choice of ordering his people to obey the Spaniards or death by crucifixion. The leader chose death over slavery and was immediately crucified and burned while still alive. Without their leader, the Hatuai were quickly enslaved. Columbus again forced the natives to mine for gold. Because of the high Native American death rate under the hardships of Spanish slavery, Columbus declared that the Native Americans were far inferior to Africans as slaves. As a consequence, the Spanish began to bring African slaves to Cuba to support their mainland explorations.
One hundred years ago, Cuba was still under Spanish control. The Spanish had continued to kill the Hatuai, including my great-grandparents, in an attempt to keep the Hatuai and the African-Cubans suppressed as sources of cheap labor. Also 100 years ago, for a comparison, the United States was still offering payments for Native American and Hispanic scalps in an attempt to secure the New Mexico and Arizona regions. (These events were occurring only 50 years before the Jewish holocaust began.)
The events of 1492 may seem remote to the world of today, but the precedents that Columbus set, the mistreatment of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans in the New World, still affect the world that we live in 500 years after his historic voyage. Columbus does not deserve to represent the MIT spirit of exploration and discovery. Columbus sailed not to explore or discover a new route to China, but to exploit the Chinese. Instead, Columbus exploited Native Americans, mistaking them for Indians, and was the first to bring African slaves to the New World.
I accuse the Class of 1992 Ring Committee of prejudice. The committee has been made aware of its ignorance and has acknowledged its mistake, and yet has chosen to perpetuate a false image of Columbus. I offer the ring committee's actions as an example of how Americans have blocked the memory of the mistreatment of Native Americans from America's collective memory.
If I were a member of the large Asian community at MIT, the sophomore ring committee would not dare insult me or my ancestors by using the image of one of the many famous men in history who have exploited or murdered Asians. If I were instead a member of the African-American community at MIT, the ring committee again would not dare insult me or my ancestors by using the image of one of the many famous men in history who have exploited or murdered African-Americans.
Finally, if I were a member of the Jewish community at MIT, the ring committee would not dare insult me or my ancestors by using the image of one of the many famous men in history who have exploited or murdered members of the Jewish faith. By starting World War II, Hitler began a wave of scientific exploration and discovery which resulted in technology that directly benefits our lives today. The 1992 ring committee would never consider putting Hitler on the brass rat because of the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity that he committed. But because I am a member of the extremely small Hispanic and Native American community at MIT, the 1992 ring committee has decided that it can insult me and my ancestors, and in the process disregard historical evidence, just so the committee can be "cute" and celebrate the anniversary of Columbus' voyage.
Because of their mistreatment and murders, the memory of my ancestors including my great-grandparents should be respected just as if they were exploited Asians, enslaved African-Americans, or Jews killed in the Holocaust. The image of Columbus on the Class of 1992 ring should be removed.
Juan G. Ricardo-Grimes '90->