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You say “Columbus Day,” Canada says “Thanksgiving”

Posted by Michael Eldridge on October 14, 2013

Claude McKay

That excellent web-aggregator of all things Caribbean, Repeating Islands, (re-)posted Claude McKay’s “America” today, presumably as a kind of sideways acknowledgement of Columbus Day.  Indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere have special reason to be dubious about the U.S. national holiday, but the Mighty Shadow wasn’t the first West Indian wordsmith to note that the voyage that inaugurated the European invasion of the Americas also led to the enslavement and scattering of Africans.  McKay’s ambivalent sonnet conveys both pride and chagrin about the dread history—and future—to which he belongs as a Jamaican émigré in New York:

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!

Meanwhile, north of the border, our Canadian cousins choose to give generic thanks rather than lionize the original Illegal Alien.  (Columbus’s “authority was a cocked hat,” sings Shadow, “and his passport was violence.”)  Although Canada has its own shameful history vis-à-vis First Nations people, at least its Thanksgiving holiday isn’t whitewashed in a mendacious myth of inter-ethnic amity.  A few years back, I quoted a snippet of Lord Caresser’s “Thanksgiving Day,” composed when he himself was a fresh immigrant to Canada.  Here it is in full.  Caresser’s congratulations to his hosts on their talent for epicurean excess are perhaps only slightly ironic:

Lord Caresser, "I Dream of Lena Horne" (1947). Library and Archives Canada: George Robertson Fonds, Container 24, File 12

Lord Caresser, “Thanksgiving Day” (1947). Library and Archives Canada: George Robertson Fonds, Container 24, File 12

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One Response to “You say “Columbus Day,” Canada says “Thanksgiving””

  1. […] You say “Columbus Day,” Canada says “Thanksgiving” […]

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