Final ruling: statue stays/Columbus monument to receive tell-all markers

Members of Mayoral Commission of City Art, Monuments and Markers, (l-r) Harriet F. Senie, John Calvelli and Tom Finkelpearl, at the public hearing about the monuments in the Bronx on November 27.
Community News Group/Sarah Valenzuela

The stone sculpture of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle will stay, but is expected to have some company.

On Friday, January 12, Mayor de Blasio released the Monuments Commission’s final report on public monuments and property in the city.

While the statue will be staying, new historical markers are expected to be placed at Columbus Circle detailing the life of Christopher Columbus and history of the statue itself, according to a press release on the report.

“I believe the commission used common sense. On one hand you’re talking about Confederate generals who led a war to separate from our country,” said Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, who testified in the Bronx at the public hearing about public monuments. “I don’t know if you erect statues to people like that, but it’s another thing to remove a statue of Columbus.”

“You’re not celebrating the terrible things he did to Native Americans, but the accomplishments of sailing out to a world unknown to Europe.”

In addition to the markers, the city has planned to commission a new monument recognizing indigenous people.

“I expected this compromise, it’s politics,” said Bobby Gonzalez, a multicultural motivational speaker and storyteller from the south Bronx. “Columbus, he was a murderer and a slave trader. There’s documentation.”

“It’s overdue [the commission of a monument to indigenous people],” continued Gonzalez, who not only identifies as Latino, but also as native Taino, one of the indigenous populations historians say were nearly wiped out due to the Columbus exploration.

“I think there should be more dialogue between native people and non-natives about this particular issue and having it conducted in a civilized tone,” he added.

The Forum of Italian American Educators, along with other Italian-American organizations, have been conflicted by the recent decision regarding the monument.

“FIAME applauds the Mayoral Commission for deciding to keep the statue of Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle, but as a part of the Columbus Heritage Coalition, we are against the placing of a plaque at the site,” said FIAME in a statement released to the Bronx Times Reporter.

“We feel that such an action will depict Columbus in a negative light. We support the efforts of the Coalition to preserve our Columbus statue as is, as a symbol of pride for the Italian American community.”

Members of the Native American community have also been concerned about the indigenous people monument’s message.

“[The indigenous people monument] has to be based on resilience and survival,” said Hugh Burnam of the Native American Mohawk nation, Wolf Clan in Onondaga, New York. “If there’s a statue of us there to represent who we are, the other side of my thinking is many seeing us, as a people, are extinct and this [statue] is who we used to be and that’s sad because it’s kind of a legacy of colonization.”

The Mayor’s Commission plans to work with the indigenous community living in New York for the coming monument, according to a representative from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.

The Columbus Heritage Coalition has planned to speak to city representatives to overturn the decision to add the historical markers near the Columbus statue, according to supporters of the coalition.

Reach Reporter Sarah Valenzuela at (718) 260-4584. E-mail her at svalenzuela@cnglocal.com.

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