By Thomas Behnke
Contemporary protests of Columbus Day decry how Christopher Columbus oppressed the indigenous peoples of the Americas, as did the wave of Europeans that followed in his wake. Following the recent demands for the removal of statues of Confederate generals from public areas, many Americans, Bronxites included, say that Columbus should be counted among the symbols of hate and oppression.
“It’s a farce,” Bernadette Santiago, a junior at Lehman said. “We are celebrating someone who is evil.” When asked about the holiday’s connection to Italian heritage she said, “shouldn’t it be a Spanish holiday, since he was commissioned by Spain?”
Ironically, the holiday, which began in 1869 in San Francisco and became a federal holiday in 1937, was initially seen as a way for oppressed and marginalized Catholics---especially Italians---to gain mainstream acceptance. Manhattan and the Bronx both hold annual Columbus Day parades. This year, CBS New York reported 35,000 people marched in the Manhattan parade while the Bronx Times stated that nearly 100 groups participated in the Bronx Parade.
During the Manhattan parade, a small group of protesters gathered in Columbus Circle to voice their objections to the celebration. The Bronx Columbus Day Parade was sparsely attended, perhaps due in part to sporadic bouts of rain. The Meridian attended it, and was offered the opportunity to sign a petition to keep the Columbus statues in the city, in response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call for a review of symbols of hate in New York. Bronx parade coordinator, Tony Signorile, as reported in the Bronx Times, stated that due to the controversy surrounding the review, the mayor would not be invited to this year’s parade. There was also a noticeable increase in police activity compared to past parades. Police dogs, numerous patrolmen and helicopters were a constant presence.
In addition to these protests, several acts of vandalism involving statues of Columbus have recently occurred. In Baltimore on Aug. 21, a statue believed to be the first in America erected in honor of Columbus was vandalized. No arrests were made. A YouTube video shows the statue being struck with a sledgehammer and protestors holding signs reading “racism,” “tear it down,” and “the future is racial equality.”
Statues were defaced in three separate incidents in the New York City area. On Aug. 29, at Columbus Park in Yonkers, a bust was thrown to the ground and destroyed. No arrests have been made. On Sept. 12, a statue of Columbus in Central Park had its hands painted red, and its base was spray painted with the words “hate will not be tolerated.” The perpetrator is still at large. On Sept. 25, a homeless man was caught painting the hand of the Columbus iron portrait in Columbus Circle, with pink nail polish. Daniel Kimery, 38, was arrested at the scene. He allegedly told police the nail polish represented “the blood on the Italian explorer’s hands.”
“The good and the bad of history, both should be studied and explored, but Columbus should stay in classrooms, not in monuments.”
- English literature major Duane Edmonds
When it comes to the past, however, much misinformation about Columbus discovering America is still taught in elementary schools. Children learn “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and about the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria. In truth, though he made four voyages to the Americas, Columbus never actually landed on the mainland. Throughout most of these voyages, he was convinced he was on the continent of Asia and had discovered a new route for the spice trade. After his first voyage he was appointed viceroy and governor of the Indies due to his belief that he had landed in India.
While most Lehman students who the Meridian spoke with do not view Columbus as a hero, neither did they support the vandalism. English literature major Duane Edmonds said, “We should have a civil debate, peaceful; I don’t agree with the defacings. The good and the bad of history, both should be studied and explored, but Columbus should stay in classrooms, not in monuments.”