When I was growing up in the suburbs north west of the Big Apple, I spent the second weekend of several Octobers playing in a youth soccer tournament in the town of Parsippany, NJ. A lot of kids did. It was a big deal. Tents were rented. Canopies erected. Coffee and hot chocolate were poured from those heavy-duty brown plastic multi-gallon thermoses. Bagels were plastic-wrapped and marked C or B and arrayed on folding tables alongside candy and other things that my mom wouldn't buy me because she had made me a sandwich that was in a soft cooler . Paper boxes of munchkins were picked up at Dunkin' Donuts (by someone else's mom) en route to the first game on Saturday morning. Merchandise was hawked and kids clamored for t-shirts with clever slogans (like "soccer stud" with a picture of a screw-in stud for your cleats). Like I said, it was a big deal. Especially if you were like nine.
The travel soccer club in my town was the Ramapo Wildcats. I played with the team in my age group from the season it was founded early in grade school right on through high school when it was broken up. I was the only one that lasted that long. This, more than my play, allowed me to be team captain at various points throughout the years. I didn't get an armband but I did get to call a lot of coin tosses. We wore a green and white kit and took our name from the nearby Ramapo Mountains. The Ramapo Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain chain and were/are home to the Ramapough Lenape Indians. To travel to this tournament, my mom would drive us in our big black Chevy Suburban along Rt. 202 which ran along the foothills of the mountains.
My younger sister's team played in this tournament as well. And eventually the team's of my two younger brothers did. I recall my sister's squad having the most success. My teams? Not so much. Not that we weren't good, because we were. Seriously. Be impressed by me. Please. We once won the fabled Virginian. I know! But we couldn't seem to crack the nut that was Parsipanny. And the victory carried some cache. Not the trophy. Or the extra patches from other clubs that could be acquired by playing a few extra games. Nope. The prize was Monday. It was having to play in the finals on Monday and then getting to miss school.
The Parsipanny tournament was held Columbus Day weekend every year. The first two rounds were Saturday and Sunday and the championship games in each age group were Monday morning. The way I remember (which may be wrong), the public schools in my town used to get this day off. Until we didn't. It became just another Monday. Except one with more talk of the Pinta than normal. And perhaps a little preview of the first Thanksgiving. The only way to get excused from school was to reach the Final. So many kids in town were played with the Wildcats that all the teachers knew about the tournament and didn't give you a hard time about the absence.
That tournament in Parsipanny is what I think of every year when Columbus Day rolls around. I think of Smith Field, cool early morning games and the Burger King that was just outside the entrance to the field complex and that we would sneak over to, click-clacking in our cleats, in between games. I remember the white t-shirts from that tournament that had a picture of a three boats. Those boats stretched across the ample chests of soccer moms who wore them on the sidelines were sailing to America. Carrying fair-skinned folks whose arrival would eventually produce, among many other things, this tournament.
The name of the town comes from the Lenape word "parsipanong," meaning "the place where the river winds through the valley." Before there was a Burger King, a Smith Field complex and public schools classrooms to avoid on Mondays, the area had been populated by the Lenape. Not only were they spread up to the Ramapo Mountains, but also throughout New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware and up into the Hudson Valley. Today, though, the Lenni Lenape are not recognized by the U.S. Government. Meaning, they've got no reservation of their own. Not that having a reservation is the cat's pajamas. It's usually not. But it's something. It's a place where you can invite me to gamble and buy cheap cigarettes. It's also a place where, for example, you could have schools teach a version of history that accounts for your existence. It's a place were Columbus Day might not be viewed quite the same.
The arrival of Christopher Columbus in the "New World" might not seem like a day for celebration for those who are really from Parsipanny. For Native Americans and indigenous peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere it probably seems like a pretty shitty holiday. And no amount of zeppolles or sausage and pepper sandwiches at the various Italian-themed street fairs taking place around the country are going to change that. That said, I enjoy those items. But I'm not Native American. I'm a white guy from the 'burbs who likes greasy food served outdoors.
Italian-Americans have increasingly adopted Columbus Day as a day to celebrate their heritage since Columbus was from Genoa even though he sailed for Spain. It's also a big day for those who are looking to commemorate the audacious use of flags in history.
Oct. 12 has been a day for celebrations going back to the days of the 13 colonies. Oddly enough (at least it seems odd to me), Colorado was the first state to make Columbus Day a state holiday in 1906. It became a federal holiday in 1934. This was initially opposed by many in the middle of the nineteenth century. And not because folks realized that Columbus didn't exactly "discover" this land. Or because people felt it was giving undue glory to one of the sadder chapters in human history (that being the chapter in which Spaniards and assorted Europeans lay waste to civilizations on two continents in the Western Hemisphere, clearing space to allow for the destruction of a third continent). Rather, nativists and anti-immigration activists in America didn't like that Italians and assorted Catholics were increasingly using the day to celebrate their heritage. That was the problem: Catholics getting a little too uppity. WASPS, Masons and other right-wingnut "patriots" were afraid that the Catholics were going to take over the country. Probably to turn it over to the Vatican. That old gag.
In the twentieth century, South American countries began to celebrate Dia De La Raza in place of Columbus Day. This "Day of the Race" was meant to run counter to the Eurocentric holiday in the U.S. and commemorate the pre-Columbian cultures that had been nearly expunged from the continent. In 2002, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez renamed the holiday Dia De La Resisencia Indigena, meaning "Day of Indigenous Resistance" to remember the struggle of those ancient cultures living in the New World against their would-be colonizers. Two years later, a statue of Columbus was toppled in Caracas on Oct. 12. Things were getting interesting.
This past weekend a soccer tournament was held in Parsipanny. It's now called the Parsipanny Pride Tournament rather than the Columbus Day tournament. I'm not totally sure what that means. Although I don't suspect that Hugo Chavez had much to do with it. Needless to say, I wish I could have been playing in the finals instead of at work today.