President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared Columbus Day a holiday in 1937. He thought of it as a celebration of “promise” — the exciting discovery of a New World. President Reagan echoed FDR’s feelings in 1984, when he said, “This great explorer won a place in history and in the hearts of all Americans because he challenged the unknown and thereby found a New World.” In Italian communities, Columbus Day was a celebration of Italian-American heritage.
At the end of the 20th century, Columbus Day didn’t mean excitement to everyone. The idea of discovering a world where other people were already living was less appealing to many. There was also new information. For one thing, Columbus was not the first European to reach the Americas. The archaeological record now shows that Vikings had already made the voyage before Columbus, thinking he was in Asia, reached the Caribbean. What’s more, it is uncertain that Columbus actually came ashore on any part of the United States.
There was also more awareness that Columbus, however bold an explorer he might have been, was not a representative of democratic ideals. His writings show that he encouraged slavery and mistreatment of the people living in the places he claimed for Spain.
By the 1990s, some communities were replacing Columbus Day observances with Indigenous Peoples Day. Columbus is important in world history because of the far-reaching effects of his voyages, but some communities prefer to focus on the indigenous peoples who were so greatly affected.
One thing that is not controversial: Christopher Columbus reached Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493. He named the Island San Juan Bautista. Juan Ponce De Leon became the first governor of the Spanish colony.
Puerto Rico observes November 19th as Discovery of Puerto Rico Day. The day is marked by closure of schools and businesses, and by a giant parade. There are fairs, and the day is the beginning of the Christmas celebrations.