New York City–Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers took an easy political but unprincipled way out when the issue of controversial statues came up in 2018. The Commission called for “historical markers” on controversial statues such as the Columbus statue on 59th Street. So far, I have seen no “markers.” Governor Andrew M. Cuomo stated recently that he is against the removal of the statue.
Many people think that removing statues of those who engaged in crimes against humanity—such as Christopher Columbus or leaders of the Confederacy who were instrumental in causing the bloodiest civil war in our history by resisting an eventual end to slavery—is a waste of time or that they are just part of our history. I believe that to keep their statues in public spaces is to honor them and perverts history. Hitler was an important part of German history but the German government does not allow his statue in public spaces.
COLUMBUS ‘THOUGHT NOTHING OF KNIFING INDIANS…’
Regarding Columbus, even the Spanish government recalled him back to Spain, stripped him of his titles and jailed him temporarily for his enslavement of the Caribbean Indigenous and for brutally murdering those who resisted. Many Americans believed that “Columbus discovered America,” but he was sent by Spain to sail directly west to India and China. Not knowing there were two continents that blocked him, he believed that the islands he encountered were off the coast of India and he called the Indigenous people Indians. Later, needing the experience of Columbus to extend its explorations and conquests, the Spanish government approved his leadership of further trips to the New World. The European conquest of the “Americas” resulted in a disaster for its Indigenous peoples.
I believe that Gov. Cuomo underestimates the Italian American community. Those Italian Americans who use Columbus as a figure to represent their contribution to U.S. society would recoil in shock if they knew what crimes he and his brother Bartolomeo committed once they arrived in the “New World.” Bartolomé de las Casas, priest and missionary, reported that Columbus and his soldiers “thought nothing of knifing Indians and cutting slices of them to test the sharpness of their blades.” To ignore this is to refuse to honestly face up to our history, something that many U.S. cities and states have corrected.
Several U.S. states and cities have renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day or do not celebrate it. There are other Italians that Italian Americans can honor in place of Columbus such as Giuseppe Garibaldi or Giuseppe Mazzini, who were instrumental in the unification on Italy in 1870. Not learning from our history will prevent us from ever solving the curses of racism, prejudice and xenophobia that afflict this country.
–Thomas Siracuse (Siragusa)
an Italian American