Dominicans got it right. The sailor who landed on their shores in 1492 is bad luck. They call that luck el fukú, lavishly explained by Junot Diaz in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. All you have to do is say the name of the sailor and the curse of el fukú is upon you, so instead you refer to him as el Almirante, the Admiral, as I will in this text.
The day that celebrates the sailor whose name I will not tempt the Fates by writing it, has become a hotly disputed issue. The people he named Indians and their sympathizers lobby to call the whole thing off, as they did back in 1992, when clueless Spain, no empire since 1898, thought it would host a global party to celebrate the Quincentennial of the Discovery of America. Didn't happen. What Discovery?, some asked rhetorically. The people of this side of the pond were in no more need of discovery than you and I when we discover our countenance every morning on the bathroom mirror.
OK, OK, let's call it the Encounter, they said. Fair enough. The inhabitants of the New World, old news to themselves, and the Europeans encountered one another. Except that encounter didn't go so well for the so-called Indians. Some said the Discovery/Encounter was actually the Genocide. More recent history claims that the Europeans didn't need a devilish plot to annihilate the native population of the New (to the Europeans) World. European germs dispatched them more efficiently than any premeditated biological weapon. And it all began when el Almirante and his men stepped on American (as it would be called) soil. Some Encounter.
Also, it seems that the man whose exploit some now lobby to stop celebrating was a bit off his rocker. All of this is totally different than the founding myth I learned in school, where we were taught that thanks to him we got our language, Spanish, and our faith, Catholic -- this was in a Roman Catholic school.
Here is where I veer into politically incorrect territory. Am I glad I was raised Catholic? In a way, yes. Although I admire the gumption of Protestantism as well as the tradition of tolerance that some, though not all, seeded into the culture of what would become the U.S., I have to go with the rich, voluptuous even, art and music of Catholicism that shaped my consciousness. I guess I have to thank el Almirante -- and maybe the Inquisition -- for that.
As for language, I once got some angry mail for writing admiringly about the Admiral because thanks to him my first language was Spanish. Don't get me wrong. You have to be terminally insensitive to think I don't love the language I'm here writing in. But Spanish is my deep pleasure. Gracias, C . . . quiero decir, Almirante. Even if he was Italian.
And that's one thing I don't get. Why is the Day of el Almirante a big deal with Italians? OK, so an Italian did whatever it is he did. Can't you all be satisfied with, like, Ancient Rome and the Renaissance? Really. When I was growing up we didn't give the day his name. Instead, it was el Día de la Raza. Meaning the Spanish-speaking peoples, Raza used in a way still used by some Mexican-Americans.
El fukú could be the curse of the European presence in the Americas. But it also reflects the fate of el Almirante himself. He never got what he asked from the Spanish Crown. At some point he was in chains. And the hemisphere he discovered or encountered or whatever got named after someone else. As compensation, there's a Columbia University in the Ivy League, a Colombia in South America (though there's no longer a Gran Colombia), sundry towns here and there, and a big Spanish restaurant in Tampa. In my hometown, both the red-light district and the cemetery bear his name, which lends consistency to the life trajectory of an hijo de puta. At least, none of those places are named America. And all seem impervious to el fukú.
Should el Almirante be demoted from the day that bears his cursed name? If I were an Indian (that's what I've always heard them call themselves, but what do I know?), I'd probably say, yes. Demote the celebrity of that motherfucker whose voyage brought devastation and, to this day, woe to our peoples. And if they succeed, I won't complain. I draw a line, though, precisely at the southwest corner of New York City's Central Park, where el Almirante has a Circle and a statue in his honor. Come on now, he's been gone for half a millennium. Let his dead glance survey the glory of a city he could never dream, in a land he didn't really know existed that chooses to honor him that way.
It could be worse. They could topple his statue and replace it by a semblance of someone more apropos to the city's wretched excess. Just imagine the statue that would crown a Trump Circle. There are curses that rival el fukú.