4 Perspectives on the Christopher Columbus Statues

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tags: memorials, statues, monuments, public history, Columbus

Hi, readers. It’s been a week since the city of Chicago removed two statues of Christopher Columbus in the middle of the night without warning. In a statement afterward, the city said the statues were moved “in response to demonstrations that became unsafe for both protesters and police,” and it added that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s order to remove the statues came after receiving intelligence “of great concern.” The city didn’t offer any details about the intelligence.

As the mayor’s team works on a plan to reassess monuments, memorials and murals throughout the city, I thought it’d be worth hearing from some of the people who had a stake in the removal of the statues. Their answers have been edited for clarity.

Heather Miller: Executive director of the American Indian Center in Chicago and an enrolled member of the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma.

Ron Onesti: A vice president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, a group that has advocated for keeping the statues standing in public places.

Gabriel Piemonte: Founder of a new organization, the Italian American Heritage Society of Chicago, that has denounced the Columbus statues.

Lisa Yun Lee: A professor of public culture and museum studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago who co-chaired Lightfoot’s arts and culture transition committee.

What was your reaction when you heard the city was going to remove the Columbus monuments overnight?

Miller: It was kind of bittersweet. On one level, it was really exciting to know the statues were coming down. On the other hand, the mayor said the removals were temporary. It’s still pretty much a slap in the face. To me, it says we’re going to let racism win in this city.

Onesti: My first reaction was one of betrayal. This had been an issue for a while, and we had been in contact with the mayor, aldermen and city officials about the potential of this happening. We thought we had a healthy dialogue going and then when you find out at 3 in the morning the statue is on a flatbed trailer — that’s where the betrayal comes in. Our community was not invited to come to the table and discuss options.

Piemonte: I was thinking, “Wow, this is how [the mayor] is going to do this?” And I thought, “This is weird.” In retrospective, she did the safe thing. She did the smart political move.

Lee: Collective joy. Although I support a vibrant public process and debate, in this circumstance, there was the need for swift action and leadership in response to a people’s movement on the side of justice.

Read entire article at ProPublica

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