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Members of the Christopher Columbus Italian Society watched as a green forklift drove slowly toward the Christopher Columbus statue in the middle of Columbus Park Wednesday morning. Crew members wrapped the statue with yellow binding, looped it onto the forklift, and stepped back as the bronze figure was lifted off the pedestal.
The City of San Antonio plans to remove the red latex paint splashed onto the statue as soon as possible to minimize any damage from the vandalism last week. While the removal of the statue is temporary, a City Council committee chaired by Mayor Ron Nirenberg voted Tuesday to ask the full City Council to vote on permanent removal of the statue in August.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who filed a request last month for City Council to consider removing the statue and renaming Columbus Park, also visited the park Wednesday morning. He pointed out that the controversy around Christopher Columbus’ legacy isn’t unique to San Antonio.
“Many people have recognized the symbol of Columbus to be a painful one for certain groups,” he said. “Much like what Confederate statues have represented recently, this has gone on in a similar way.”
A few bystanders observed the statue’s removal Wednesday morning, but no protesters or demonstrators were present.
Paolo Cristadoro, one of the Italian Society board members, said the society understood the friction the statue might cause and wanted to come to a compromise that allowed the integrity of the statue to be maintained. The society, which was founded in 1890, originally donated the statue to the City to be displayed in Columbus Park in 1957.
“We saw the videos a few weeks ago of statues being vandalized, destroyed, decapitated,” Cristadoro said of videos from around the world of statues being pulled down by protesters against police brutality and racism. “We were concerned with the statue and reached out … we wanted to get control of the narrative and do what we can do to protect our statue, protect our property, and protect anyone from getting hurt.”
Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who first landed in the Americas in 1492, has a legacy tied to colonization and violence. As protests against racism and police brutality continue across the United States, images of Columbus have also been criticized and taken down. But for the Italian Society in San Antonio, Columbus was just one of the ways to show their heritage in the city.
Columbus Park sits in the heart of the original Italian community, which was split by Interstate 35. The city’s sole Italian Catholic church – San Francesco di Paola Church, founded in 1927 – still sits by the park, as well as the Italian Society’s building.
“This is where the Italian community got started,” Cristadoro said. “As the highway came in and split the community – the community is scattered all over the city, but this is still the focal point. A lot of Italians were baptized at this church. This area means a lot to the community, so that’s why we want to keep the integrity of the property.”
The park itself is set to be renamed as well. The Italian Society approves of the suggested name, “Piazza Italia.” The City will hold a public hearing over the proposed name change next week, and the full City Council will vote on the new name in August. The stone plinth that held the statue will also stay, but will have a plaque describing the historic Italian neighborhood placed over the existing inscription, Treviño said.
The Italian Society plans to think of ways to replace Columbus in the downtown park, Cristadoro said. Still splattered with red paint, the statue was wrapped in thick blankets and secured to the bed of a rented Home Depot truck. After being restored, the Italian Society will reclaim it as their own.
“There’s always been something to honor the Italian community,” Cristadoro said. “Christopher Columbus was for the immigrants who connected to him. Then the narrative started changing. We’ll figure it out.”