This statue of Christopher Columbus in New York City’s Columbus Circle is about more than an explorer. It is about Italian American ancestors, history and culture. The story behind the statue is the story of the Italian American immigrant experience. Italians were discriminated against, they were given jobs that no one else would take and deemed racially inferior. Italians in America did not have it easy.
In the wake of the largest mass lynching in American history, where 11 Italian Americans – after being exonerated of a crime – were murdered, working-class Italian Americans donated small amounts of money to build the Christopher Columbus statue.
The statue was a gift to symbolize their love for their adopted country. A country which did not readily accept them. A country that was often hostile to them. A country whose president at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, remarked that he believed the lynchings to be “a rather good thing.”
This is why New York City Mayor de Blasio and elected leaders throughout New York must know that any attempt to create and place plaques near the Columbus statue that depicts him in a negative light is offensive. That action would symbolize a threat to every ethnic group in our nation that wishes to publically commemorate one of their own.