Celebrations of Christopher Columbus in the U.S. did not gain much ground until 1892, after Italian immigrants were murdered by a mob in New Orleans made up “mostly of the best element” of New Orleans society, The New York Times reported. That led President Benjamin Harrison to designate Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration. It was a way to ease tensions.
Colorado was the first state to make Columbus Day a holiday, in 1905, thanks to the lobbying of an Italian immigrant in Denver, Angelo Noce, who, like Columbus, was a native of Genoa. It became a federal holiday in 1968.
In March, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law a measure retracting the first state Columbus Day. Henceforth in Colorado, the first Monday in October is to be known as Cabrini Day, for the Catholic saint Maria Francesca “Mother” Cabrini, who also was born in Italy. “It’s a great day for Colorado that we can say, ‘We no longer support a racist holiday,’” state Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, a Commerce City Democrat, said at the time.
But a statue of Columbus still stands in Pueblo, among other places in Colorado, in the city’s Christopher Columbus Piazza. This week, it has been surrounded by protesters.
“We don’t want the statue of this genocidal maniac in our town,” said Breeanna Guerra-Rodriguez, a local activist quoted by The Pueblo Chieftan.
Frank Cirullo, a Vietnam War veteran and longtime Columbus Day advocate in Pueblo, told the paper, “I’ve been at this statue for 47 years. I’m the last surviving member of the original Christopher Columbus Lodge. And I have a message for the young people here: They will never take this statue down.”
This is heartbreaking. We cannot say whether Pueblo’s Columbus statue needs to go, although we understand the case against Columbus; but if there was ever a time for mediation, it is there, now.