Are You Dreaming?

If you think the upcoming Columbus holiday is safe, or that a statue in your community of the man who united two worlds with a rickety wooden caravel won’t be carried away in the middle of the night, you’re dreaming.

Some legislators have proposed wiping away the holiday here in New York. Its sponsor in the Senate, Jessica Ramos, also wants all statues of Columbus removed. “As the daughter of a proud indigenous woman, I would love to see a statue honoring the people whose land has been stolen,” she says.

Who can argue with the need to respect and honor the contributions of those who preceded the new waves of immigrants that followed Columbus?

But why destroy a statue or a holiday commemorating the man who sailed from Spain, for Spain, bringing the Hispanic language and Hispanic culture to the Western Hemisphere, and led the way for hundreds of millions of immigrants to follow his path?

And if you think that Senator Ramos is alone in the belief that recognizing the first indigenous settlers must be entangled with a wrongful demonization of Columbus and the cultures that followed, it’s time to rise from slumber.

A survey of candidates by the Jim Owles Democratic Club earlier this year turned up responses from eight Senators, including Senator Ramos. All are in favor of removing the memorial from Columbus Circle.

“I support removing the Christopher Columbus statue,” wrote a member of the state Assembly. “I would support replacing it with an indigenous hero and believe we should work with activists to determine who that would be.”

In 2018, the Federal Department of the Interior honored the Columbus Circle Memorial’s historical value and aesthetic excellence with recognition in the National Register of Historic Places. This added protection was made possible by a dedicated and united group of volunteers and community groups, including the Columbus Heritage Coalition.

Our beautiful memorial–symbolic of the contributions of all immigrants, especially the Italian American immigrants who built it– isn’t going anywhere. But we must remain united and vigilant.

Sadly, no such designation protected the 93-year-old Columbus memorial in Newark’s Washington Park historic district. Instead, by order of the City of Newark, the statue was taken under cover of darkness in 2020 to parts unknown, eventually turning up in a storage cage in Trenton.

Community activists and historic preservationists advocated for the return of Columbus. They also strongly supported a plan to honor Harriet Tubman, the famed abolitionist. But the City rejected the possibility of returning the Columbus memorial to its pedestal.

Once decapitated, the composition’s pedestal, by itself worthy of historical and artistic recognition, survived rooted in the site. Master craftsman, architect, and sculptor Giuseppe Ciocchetti, the Roman statue designer, created bronze relief plaques depicting Columbus’s commissioning, embarkation, voyage, and landing.

Ultimately, the matter was referred to the state’s Historic Preservation Council. The Council urged the City of Newark to explore alternate locations within George Washington Park, renamed by the City Harriet Tubman Square, and strongly suggested the City pursue a plan to allow the Columbus and the proposed Tubman memorials to “co-exist in the park.”

Restoring Columbus and welcoming Tubman seemed a proper compromise. But the city administration rejected any possibility of restoration as it would “undermine the City’s stated goals to foster a more inclusive park setting and therefore [was] dismissed by the City.”

Rejecting the Tubman-Columbus compromise, Commissioner Shawn LaTourette’s New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ruled that the arrangement does not meet the “project need to replace the former Christopher Columbus statue with the Harriet Tubman monument.”

La Tourette approved the removal of the pedestal under certain conditions placed upon the City, including bringing in a consultant to ensure proper handling of historical materials as per federal preservation guidelines.

Instead, the City came through with a wrecking crew last week and wiped the site of any trace of the Columbus legacy. “In essence, this was a done deal from the outset,” said activist Guy Sterling. “I highly doubt the city did much or any of it before it pulled the trigger on taking down the statue’s pedestal.”

This outrageous behavior cannot go unanswered. Therefore, we are asking New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to launch an investigation into this gross violation of process by the City of Newark that totally ignored the state’s requirement for the proper retrieval of Ciocchetti’s reliefs and other historical material.

We live in a democratic country of laws that are supposed to protect the rights of all citizens equally. Respect all cultures and ethnicities for their accomplishments and contributions to this great country. Tearing down a statue and erecting another in its place offends all cultures and violates the values for which this country stands.

Governor Murphy, you were elected to represent all the people. Stand up to those who rather divide us than unite us and right this wrong.

Angelo Vivolo
Columbus Heritage Coalition

A postscript: Columbus can only be understood in the context of his times. The explorer encountered a world of great civilizations sustained by institutionalized slavery, child sacrifice, and cannibalism, all of which he opposed. Yet this false narrative continues because of a slacking citizenry and the lies from people like Howard Zinn and others. Next month we’ll explore Zinn’s demonization of Columbus and the Hispanic culture. Watch here for details soon. If you’d like to learn more, view this three minute video: