Celebrating Día de la Raza Instead of Columbus Day
While in the U.S. people celebrate Columbus Day in October, in Latin American countries we celebrate the Día de la Raza.
This celebration has a little bit (ok, a lot) of controversy around it, and it’s important to approach it with an open mind to different points of view and with a willingness to learn about other cultures’ historic experiences.
Keep reading to learn all about the celebration of Día de la Raza, its differences with Columbus Day, and why the two holidays exist for the same date. Then, I’m also including examples of how this holiday is celebrated in different Latin American countries and some activities to learn about and celebrate it in the classroom with your students.
What is Día de la Raza?
Every year on October 12, several Latin American countries celebrate the Día de la Raza. On this day, people from across the Americas commemorate the day when Cristopher Columbus touched land on this continent and kickstarted a whole new age on these territories’ rich history.
The meaning of Día de la Raza in English is “Day of the Race,” which is a way to focus on the original American races’ cultures, instead of on the European explorer’s adventures and misadventures. The idea, however, is the same as in Columbus Day, to celebrate the first encounter between the American and the European worlds.
Differences with Columbus Day
Also known as Día de la Hispanidad (Hispanic Heritage Day), Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Indigenous Resistance Day) or Día de la Diversidad Cultural (Cultural Diversity Day), the Día de la Raza is a controversial commemoration as the historic events that started on this day in 1492 can be seen through two very different lenses.
On one hand, people would argue that this date was the beginning of the history of the modern American nations, and the introduction of the American continent to the rest of the world. This view is Eurocentric, which means that it focuses on the European perspective.
On the other hand, October 12, 1492, was the start of a process of death and subjugation of native indigenous people by European nations. This view states that celebrating the person who made that possible (Christopher Columbus) doesn’t make any sense.
For this reason, they came up with the idea of celebrating the unique race that was created as a result of this encounter between the native American cultures and the European ones. A raza mestiza or “mixed blood race.”
Why do the Two Holidays Exist?
Because that’s both the blessing and the curse of Latin America: its dual cultural origins will always produce two ways of approaching the same historic events.
Latin America speaks Spanish and Portuguese, both European languages, and its people largely identify as part of Christianity, a religion brought by Europeans. Under this perspective, celebrating the European heritage brought by Columbus and other European explorers, is understandable, hence the “Columbus Day” celebration.
However, there is also a large part of the Latin American population that doesn’t speak an European language, and even if they practice Catholicism, they do it on their own terms and with plenty of indigenous traditions mixed with the Christian ones.
Each Latin American country’s history and society is different, and their view varies according to it and to the political times. In some countries, Columbus Day is a way to celebrate the undeniable European heritage of Latin American nations, while in others, it is a celebration of its mixed and indigenous origins.
How Día de la Raza is Celebrated Across Latin America
The commemoration of Día de la Raza takes on different expressions across the continent. Let’s see how some countries celebrate it in 2021.
In Mexico, Día de la Raza was declared a national holiday in 1928, however, in 1993 the Mexican Ministry of Education declared that it was a normal school day and it’s not an official holiday ever since.
In November 2020, October 12 was declared Día de la Nación Pluricultural en México or “Multicultural Nation Day” and will be celebrated as such for the first time in 2021 focusing on the rich indigenous traditions of the country.
The celebration of Día de la Raza Colombia 2021 includes historical representations and flower offerings in memory of the indigenous peoples lost during the conquest and colonization processes in the country.
In Puerto Rico, Día de la Raza takes place this year on October 11 (as in the U.S.) and it’s known on the island of Puerto Rico as Friendship Day.
Activity Ideas for Teaching Día de la Raza in the Classroom
Teaching Día de la Raza in the classroom is a delicate but enriching topic that brings the opportunity to highlight values such as dignity, self-respect, diversity, and justice.
Try these activities with your students to celebrate Día de la Raza:
Make a UN Day about Indigenous Cultures
You know that UN Day activity when every student does research about a specific country, wears its traditional costume, and prepares its national dish? You can do the same with the wide array of indigenous cultures from Latin America.
One kid or team will study the Mayans, another the Incas, etc., and they will learn about their extraordinary history, languages, and traditions. It’s one of the most enriching activities I’ve ever done with my students, and the best way to honor the indigenous peoples on Día de la Raza.
Make a Historical Representation
Just not the typical one where Columbus “discovers America” and is shown as the hero in the play. I’m talking about a little representation of that historical moment but from the perspective of the indigenous peoples.
Let the main characters be native American ones and show how they were affected by the arrival of the Europeans to these lands. This is a perfect activity to learn about Día de la Raza for kids.
Compare with Other Imperialism Experiences
This activity is better suited for middle and high school students. Ask your students to do research about other historic cases of imperialism and colonization, such as the experiences of Indian and native Australian peoples with the British Empire, or the peoples dominated under the Roman Empire.
Then compare those experiences with what happened in the Americas and identify differences and similarities, as well as pros and cons of imperialism.
Celebrate Día de la Raza and Get to Know Latin American Cultures
October 12, 1492, was a day that changed the world forever. There’s no discussion about that. The issue is if that change was a positive one or not, and if things could (and should) have been different.
We can’t change history, but we can understand its consequences and change our current views about it. By celebrating Día de la Raza, you and your students will understand better the Latin American culture in general, and the indigenous cultures of the Americas, a continent where the Spanish language is widely spoken.
Discovering and understanding a different culture is part of the process of learning a language. If you learn to speak Spanish and have a basic knowledge of Latin American culture, traveling to these countries will be much easier and a much more enriching experience for you.
Get your students speaking Spanish with a native speaker from Guatemala! Sign up for a free class, 1-on-1 or 2-on-1, we also have group class options that act as support for Spanish teachers or cater to schools looking for native Spanish instructors.
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