Columbus Day: A Time to Celebrate America's Immigrants | Opinion

It’s long past the time when it was fashionable to think of Christopher Columbus as having “discovered” America. It wasn’t that long ago kids would debate with all the intensity they could muster whether he or the Vikings had been the first Europeans to set foot in North America. The fact there were already people here was something of an afterthought.

Now, even the term “Columbus Day” has become a trigger for social justice warriors alarmed by the image of a pacific, indigenous people massacred by white Europeans seeking to build an empire and find riches far from home. It’s what happens when the demands of political correctness are permitted to overcome the serious study of history.

Furthermore, it’s that kind of grievance-based analysis of events that completely ignores the benefits to humankind that came about as a result. The desire to explore and the desire to reach beyond the horizon to see what is just over the next hill is embedded deeply in the hearts of all men and women. It’s where progress originates.

Columbus’s accomplishments are worthy of celebration not just because it can be fairly claimed he inaugurated an era of exploration that culminated in the founding of this country. Like so many of those who later followed him to what became America, his interests were primarily commercial. Some came seeking freedom of worship they could not exercise in the land of their birth. Others wanted a chance to start anew, perhaps with a new name and identity. More than a few, we must never forget, were brought here without their consent as commercial property rather than people. When taken together, all of them made contributions to making the United States the greatest, freest, most prosperous country mankind has ever known.

Rather than consider Columbus Day as a time to disparage the consequences of his adventurism and an opportunity to resist the legacy of “dead white males,” let’s rebrand the holiday as a celebration of the accomplishments made by immigrants to making the country what it is today and what it will be in the future.

Think of the honorable men and women who have added to this nation’s economic, cultural, scientific, political, diplomatic, artistic and commercial achievements. Think of Martin Luther King Jr. What would America be if it had not become home to the likes of Albert Einstein, Liz Claiborne, Andy Grove, Vinod Khosla, and Mother Cabrini?

What was true in 1717, 1817 and 1917 is not any less true today. Like my ancestors who came to the United States sometime between the end of the Civil War and beginning of the Great Depression, the people coming to the U.S. today are doing so in large part because upward mobility in their home country is blocked by religious, economic, geographic, political, linguistic, ethnic, or other artificial barriers they cannot overcome. The only way for them to escape the cultural and economic poverty in which they are condemned to live is to, literally, escape to the United States—which not everyone chooses to do, unfortunately, through lawful means and in recognized ways.

GettyImages-2639191 Christopher Columbus landing in America with the Piuzon Brothers bearing flags and crosses, 1492. Original Artwork: By D Puebla. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

They contribute mightily to the greatness that is America. Before the current economic boom began, almost 350 out of every 100,000 immigrants created a new business every month, according to the Kauffman Foundation, an entrepreneurship and education research group. Now, with the economy growing at 4 percent, that number may have doubled or even tripled.

Their children will likewise play a key role in securing a prosperous future for America. Nearly all the growth in the country's working-age population over the next 30 years will be because of immigrants and their U.S.-born children, the Pew Research Center projected in a 2013 report. By 2050, they could account for almost 40 percent of the nation’s total population.

Those who follow the rules should be welcomed with open arms and applauded for their courage. Few of us would leave behind everything and everyone we know for life in a new land replete with language and cultural barriers; barriers that can be overcome due to the generosity of the American spirit.

To a small claque of idiots out to prove a point, America is a fundamentally flawed concept unworthy of redemption. To them the country we are today was stolen from the people already here when Columbus stepped off the Santa Maria. It is a severely distorted, one-sided view of history peddled by those who want today to be known as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

From Columbus forward, people coming to the United States after being born elsewhere have made this country stronger, richer, healthier, and, most importantly, a better place. To honor them on Columbus Day keeps alive the idea of America as a “shining city on a hill” beckoning to all who seek a better life. Use the holiday to honor them and their courage to seek a better life. If not for them, then for their children and grandchildren.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff has written extensively about politics, culture, and the media for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International, and various other publications. He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@GMAIL.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​

Join the Discussion