“Christopher Columbus is a controversial figure for many of us, particularly those that come from the Caribbean,” said Puerto Rican-born City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. According to DNAinfo, Viverito is calling on the city to consider removing the Columbus Circle statue of the Italian explorer as part of their larger 90-day review of “symbols of hate.” She first introduced the proposal on Monday at a rally in East Harlem to remove another controversial statue, that of Dr. James Marion Sims, who achieved his title as the father of modern gynecology by performing experiments on slaves without consent and without anesthesia. Columbus, honored for discovering the Americas, is also believed to have enslaved and killed many of the indigenous people he encountered. In response, the Mayor’s office said the proposal will receive “immediate attention.” But of course, not everyone is happy about it.
Despite the fact that the statue was a gift to the city from Italian American immigrants in 1892, Viverito and other elected officials remain staunch in their proposal. Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, who’s also a City Council Speaker candidate and may be considering a gubernatorial run, expressed his support via Twitter:
— Jumaane (@JumaaneWilliams) August 22, 2017
At an opposing press conference yesterday at Columbus Circle, Staten Island Assemblyman Ron Castorina said the efforts are full of “revisionist history.” He continued: “It’s quite difficult to adjudicate Christopher Columbus, the man who lived in the 1400s, and to use today’s constructs for the purposes of adjudicating what type of man he was…. What it suggests is the memory of the Italian-Americans that contributed to building this city, the very buildings that we engage in commerce in, that government sits in.”
Similarly, Republican Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli sent a letter to Mark-Viverito and de Blasio asking for a “clear and concise document” that outlines the criteria being used to determine how these public monuments will be considered. “Although your intentions may be well placed, I fear that an examination into these particular statues, as well as the many others the city hopes to ‘review,’ will present complex and cloudy historical interpretations that will only serve to deepen gaps between people of New York with different backgrounds and historical worldviews,” he wrote.
In response, mayoral spokesperson Ben Sarle wrote in a statement obtained by the Observer that “The Columbus statue is obviously one that will get very immediate attention because there’s been tremendous concern raised about it. When the guidelines/criteria for review are set by the commission, we will make sure they are available to the public.” Though de Blasio, who himself is Italian, hasn’t publicly commented on the specifics of the Columbus statue, he did say in 2013 that the explorer has “some troubling things” in his history.
Columbus Park, via New York City Department of Parks & Recreation
On Monday, a statue of Columbus in Baltimore believed to be the first dedicated to him in the nation was vandalized, as was a statue in Boston over the weekend, when a protest at a statue was also held in Detroit. As 6sqft previously reported, the Columbus Circle monument is not the only such market in NYC. At the southern end of the Central Park mall at 66th Street sits another statue. Chinatown’s Columbus Park not only bears his name but another statue, the same true for Astoria’s Columbus Square. And in the Bronx’s Little Italy, D’Auria-Murphy Triangle bears a large bust of Columbus.
De Blasio and Cuomo’s plan to conduct a 90-day review of “all symbols of hate on city property,” was initially made in response to the violent and Charlottesville. At the time, Cuomo announced the removal of the busts of Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from CUNY’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans in the Bronx. He also advocated that the U.S. Army reconsider its decision to keep the street names that honor Lee and Jackson at Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton.
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