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Once known throughout the world as Columbus Day, Oct. 12 in Mexico now marks Día de la Raza (Day of the Indigenous Races).

A national holiday in many countries and one of 10 legal federal holidays in the United States, the date commemorates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492, when his ship first landed in the island of Guanahani in modern-day  Bahamas.

But since the late 1960s, the day, originally conceived as a celebration of Hispanic influence in the Americas, has become a double-edged sword for many Latin American countries, in which nationalist activists throughout the region have converted it into a counter to Columbus Day, instead proclaiming the date as a celebration of native races and cultures and their resistance to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.

In Mexico, there was a broad debate in the 1980s and Oct. 12 began to be commemorated as the day of the Encounter between Worlds, marking the first time the inhabitants of the European continent came into contact with the inhabitants of the American continent, giving rise to a fusion of cultures and the birth of a Spanish-American civilization.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who claims to have taken up the cause of the country’s impoverished indigenous people, has renamed the holiday Day of the Cultures.

AMLO has also, since taking office in December 2018, demanded that both Spain and the Vatican apologize to Mexico’s native people for the “most reprehensible atrocities” committed after Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico in 1521, an issue that has caused considerable tensions between the two formerly close nations.

Last year in Mexico City authorities removed a statue of Columbus on Avenida Reforma two days before protesters planned to knock it down during events commemorating the Italian navigator’s arrival in the Americas.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has since commissioned a sculpture of an indigenous woman called Tlali to fill the space left by the Columbus statue removal, another issue which has led to considerable controversy for two reasons: first, many Mexicans are still proud of their Spanish heritage and consider Columbus to be worthy of respect and a monument, and second, apparently Sheinbaum does not have the legal authority to remove and replace monuments in the capital.

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