American iconoclasm now threatens to topple even Columbus

American iconoclasm now threatens to topple even Columbus

It looks like Christo’s work of art, but it’s a long-term political stalemate. In a park in Pittsburgh, near the Botanical Gardens, a statue is encased in a plinth. Hiding under the wrapping paper, Christopher Columbus has not seen the light of day for two years.

If this happens in the city of Pittsburgh, it will never happen again. In 2020, he decided it was time to give the Genoa-based Explorer a low-profile spot.

It was a time when many statues of American Civil War generals were torn down. Most Americans now realize that you can no longer honor the soldiers who fought to protect slavery in public. But as an extension of that debate, debate erupted over Columbus statues everywhere.

Indigenous People’s Day

For many Native Americans, the “discoverer of America” ​​primarily represented the beginning of an era of destruction and oppression. For decades, Native American organizations have argued that Columbus Day, a holiday traditionally celebrated on the second Monday in October, should be changed to Indigenous Peoples Day.

In recent years, that sentiment has been on the rise. More and more local authorities and companies are ‘switching’ to this new holiday. In 2021, Joe Biden became the first president to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day with an official announcement — he issued a separate statement about Columbus that day.

Columbus’s legacy is more complex than that of the Civil War generals. For many Italian Americans, Columbus was precisely the man who symbolized their liberation. “We support a tribal holiday, but it should not be at the expense of our Italian-American heritage,” said a statement by Basil Russo, director of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America (“Italian Sons and Daughters of America”), based in Pittsburgh, where many Italians traditionally lived.

Columbus Day was widely celebrated until the early twentieth century, and was a direct response to the discrimination that still affected Italian society at the time. “More than 40 murders of Italian Americans have been documented,” Russo writes. “Statues and holidays are a way to unite and fight against brutal discrimination. It’s a way for our ancestors to claim their place on this continent.

‘Greatest Massacre in History’

For two years the Italian sons and daughters litigated to prevent Columbus from being taken from Pittsburgh. They lost the last time in October, but are announcing an appeal again.

However, judging by the reactions of the passers-by, the timing does not seem to be in their favor. In fact, everyone thinks Columbus had its day. Three friends, Linda Koehler, Dana Dekalb and Cheri Turner, are on their way to the Botanical Gardens. After hearing their opinion, they immediately start an animated discussion.

“When the Europeans came to America, it was the greatest massacre in history. We wiped out millions of people. I completely understand that Native Americans want a day to honor the people who are still here,” Koehler said.

“We’ve been good at sweeping bad things under the rug in the past,” Turner says.

“Also, put up some statues of other people,” says Dekalb. “For example, women. People of all backgrounds have done great things in the past, but in the public space we mostly celebrate white people.

In short, it could be removed from here and given a new place somewhere in a museum or educational setting, the trio concludes. “But yes, we’re from San Francisco,” they say right away — a city considered a progressive bastion.

‘Mainly Repressive’

Yet Michaela Ricchetti, who walks her dog near the statue, has little to do with Columbus. He lives in Pittsburgh and is of Italian descent. “But when I think of Columbus, I think mainly of oppression.”

He examines a plaque near the statue that provides some historical context about discrimination against Italian Americans. “I understand that it once had that function,” says Ricchetti. “But I think it’s time to create something that everyone in the city can relate to.”

Columbus in public life

As of 2018, 40 of the more than 170 Columbus statues in the United States have been removed. The Washington Post A year ago. At least Italian sons and daughters can cling to the fact that if the statue in Pittsburgh is gone, it’s impossible to completely erase the name Columbus from American public life. More than 6,000 schools, buildings, cities, rivers and roads bear her name, according to an analysis by the Data+Feminism Lab at MIT, a research institute.

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