After ‘Viva España’ there is now also criticism: Should Spain still celebrate the arrival of Columbus?

Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid is filled this Wednesday morning with hundreds of thousands of people and many Spanish flags. The yellow-red of the national bicolor is reflected in many clothes, and everyone looks nice. Then the sound of drums and trumpets resounds through the wide artery of the capital. The visitors get what they came for: a long parade of units from the National Police, Guarda Civil and the Spanish Armed Forces.

Four thousand soldiers, 150 vehicles, 85 aircraft and 220 horses pass to loud applause. When fighter jets skim across the boulevard leaving trails of red and yellow smoke, the crowd cheers loudly. Viva Spain! From a stand, the Spanish royal family and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez look amused at the show of force, which military sources say costs about 1 million euros this year.

Spain celebrates its national holiday every October 12: the Dia de la Hispanidad. Colloquially called Columbus Day, the focus is on his ‘discovery’ of the ‘New World’ in 1492 – and the subsequent conquest, Christianization and colonization of what is now Latin America. Or as the right-wing Madrid city council puts it nicely: “The anniversary of the cultural and linguistic expansion beyond the European continent.”

At a time when, in Western countries, more attention is paid to the genocide and exploitation of the indigenous population during the colonial era, it is a holiday that nowadays also provokes resistance. In the US, ‘Columbus Day’ has already been renamed Indigenous Peoples Day in some states and cities. And in Spain too, there is increasing criticism on the left of the holiday’s ‘colonial’ character.

Also read: Columbus dragged in the fight for the White House

Latino migrants

Such criticism is not given to parade visitors. “Oh, it’s just a party,” said Alicia Montero, who came to the parade with her friend. “Look,” she says, pointing to the Apache helicopters. “Isn’t it great to see?”

“Why is everything a problem?”, thirty-year-old Fernando – neatly dressed and his hair tight – interrupts the conversation. Why shouldn’t we celebrate being proud Spaniards? I am proud of my country and of my flag, and this national holiday once again emphasizes how many people feel the same way. We should leave what happened hundreds of years ago in the past.”

At the end of the military parade, the Spanish flag is raised, a tribute to all Spaniards who gave their lives for the country. When King Felipe VI ends the ceremony, the bystanders shout loudly: Viva el rey! (Long live the king). “Viva la patria”, Fernando also shouts out loud.

But not everyone is in a party mood. What used to be Dia de la raza (Day of the Race), is seen by a growing group of Hispanic immigrants as a reminder of the genocide in which their ancestors were massacred. Thousands of people protested the celebration in the big cities of Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona on Wednesday under the slogan ‘Nothing to celebrate‘ (Nothing to celebrate) and’HispaniNADA‘. Their protest grows every year.

Anti-colonialism protester Alexander Rios Pachon.

In Madrid, these demonstrators gathered on Wednesday afternoon, after the parade, for a protest march from the Neptune Fountain to the capital’s Columbus Square. The Colombian activist Alexander Ríos Pachón cannot possibly leave the colonial past, he says. “To this day, we still experience the damage from the colonial past. Our political systems in Latin America derive from it, but the social hierarchy is also closely related to capitalism. There are still Spanish companies exploiting our wealth.”

Also read: “The Spanish do not understand how deeply rooted racism is in society”

“How can we celebrate the massacre, looting and theft of our ancestors?” shouts protester Wilma Choque indignantly. “We come from rich countries, but we are poor. How is it possible? Because they still exploit us to this day. Give back our riches!” she says steadfastly.

the cradle of the kingdom

Not everyone can appreciate the counter-protest. “Mamahuevo”, a bald middle-aged man in a green vest shouts to Choque as he walks by. “You see! That’s the problem,” laughs Choque, waving a colored flag representing the indigenous people. The man turns and fires off some other sexist and racist words before quickly running away.

The Bolivian Jesse Galvez lives in Valencia and is for the protest in Madrid.

Chilean immigrant Melida Molina Morgado is at the front of the march with Choque. She is holding a banner that says ‘decolonization ya!‘ and is decked out in native clothes and flags. “It is a day of pain, death and sorrow. They wanted to erase us from this earth, but we are here in the cradle of the kingdom to show that we will always fight for our territory and for our ancestors.”

The group of protesters is growing. Bolivians, Peruvians, Hondurans and Chileans in colorful dresses and suits dance with the anti-colonial parade. Bolivian Jessi Galvez lives in Valencia and has come to the capital to participate in the demonstration. “The Spaniards say they conquered us and brought us prosperity and religion. We experience that differently. They have robbed us of our humanity. That is why we show here who they actually conquered.”

The number of spectators grows along the route of the protest march. People whisper curiously as they record the demonstration with cell phones. “How beautiful!” shouts a woman from the side. “It is a shame that they demonstrate against Día de la Hispanidad.” “You see, they find us interesting. But when you talk to them, they don’t want to know anything about us”, Galvez laughs and dances.

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