Discovering America

Antique brass compass over old USA map background

By Angela Padrón

“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, [Christopher] Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” That’s a famous rhyme told throughout the ages. It’s also been said that Columbus discovered America. Although Columbus did reach land in the West, the claim that he was the first to discover America is up for debate.

Columbus was an Italian who sailed for the King and Queen of Spain in August, 1492. His goal was to find a shortcut to the routes of the Spice Islands in Southeast Asia. He rode with a crew of about ninety men in three ships: The Nina, The Pinta, and the Santa María. The trip took several days. The men became angry and weary until they spotted land on October 12, 1492. The land they found was not the West Indies, however; it was an island off the American continent. Columbus named it San Salvador. Columbus and his men were greeted by natives called the Taínos. Columbus also explored other islands, including what is today Cuba and the island of Hispaniola. Spanish colonists soon followed to settle on the islands of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and other islands in the West Indies.

Despite sailing to and settling in the Caribbean, Columbus never reached the mainland of North America. Five hundred years prior, though, Leif Eriksson and a band of Vikings established a settlement in North America, in what is now Newfoundland. The  Vikings did not stay long, however. After a few years, the relationship between the Native Americans living in the area and the Vikings deteriorated, forcing the Vikings to leave and settle elsewhere.

So who really discovered America? Columbus? The Vikings? The Native Americans? If you believe that the discovery of America began with the first steps of any person on the land, then Native Americans would be your answer. Archaeologists and anthropologists say that native tribes traveled across the Bering Strait from Asia to North America to follow animals to hunt. The people settled all across the continent until later being conquered by European settlers. If you believe that the discovery of America began with an outside group of people settling on the land, then the Vikings would be your answer. And if you think that landing on an island off the mainland qualifies as a discovery, then Columbus would be the winner.

No matter what theory or history you choose to believe, one thing is certain: the Americas are lands of immigrants. People came from all areas of the globe to settle on the land. Whether you consider the Native Americans, the Vikings, or Columbus to have arrived first, the tradition of immigrants has been and will continue to be an important characteristic of the Americas.

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