During this unprecedented time, it is hard to place focus/importance on just one thing. We are living through a pandemic, which we had not yet experienced in today's society, and what is considered to be the largest Civil Rights Movement in the world up to date, spanning three continents as of June 6th (Time Magazine). However, small advances should not be pushed aside. I encourage everyone to see why the statue glorifying Columbus in Scotch Plains must be altered, removed, or redesigned.
While history is important to our day-to-day life, the excuse of “preserving history” should not be the reason that this statue remains the way it is currently. While many say that removing statues of people who have committed wrongs is “erasing history,” and does not allow room for change in our society, I disagree. For example, in Germany, there are no statues of Hitler, and displaying a swastika or any Nazi symbolism is banned in public and is even punishable by time in prison (German Law Archive).
My point to this is that both the German public and people all over the world are still aware of who that man was, and what occurred under his dictatorship, all without statues. While the Holocaust is not the same as slavery and genocide of Native population, as the Holocaust occurred one time over the course of four years and slavery and genocide of Natives occurred over generations, I compare them because of the oppression of groups of people and how the world has acknowledged all are not okay.
Acknowledging Columbus’ wrongdoings yet promoting that his good outweighs the bad is a direct slap in the face to both Black and Native people. It is denying that the oppression of these groups by Columbus and his crew is not enough for you to stop glorifying him. Columbus and many other historical figures actions are not up to or society's standards, and there is no need to continue to have them in a position of glorification when they have wronged entire groups of people through acts of slavery and genocide, both culturally and literally.
To say Columbus discovered America is also a statement that emphasizes why this statue must be changed. The country was already discovered and inhabited by Native populations. Columbus “discovered” the land from a European standpoint, and brought white and Spanish people ashore. This led to the eventual demise of many tribes in the Americas, from disease, overworking, or outright murders. For instance, Columbus essentially eradicated a Native tribe referred to as the Tainos. He arrived with their population being around 8 million, enslaved them, and dwindled them down to 3 million by 1496. By 1514, their population had fallen to only 22,000 according to the Spanish census done at the time (M.I.T.) Glorifying him for “discovering America” when Native populations already resided here adds to the disrespect these groups feel.
I am aware of this statue's significance to the Italian population in our town. Many have an attachment as it is meant to commemorate the immigrants who helped build the town from Montazzoli, Italy. This is why I suggest removing Columbus’ name and remodeling the statue to have someone who more accurately represents these wonderful people. Having a man who is so controversial as the face of these people distracts and takes away from the true significance and meaning of the statue.
I also recognize the work of the organizations that paid for this statue, the Italian-American club, UNICO, and Knights of Columbus, yet I cannot see why they would want this man to represent them and what they are promoting. Also, I understand to remodel/remove costs money, which is not something easily sourced during this time. I can confidently say many of the people who have signed petitions to remove or alter the statue would donate money to help the families and clubs be accurately represented outside of our town hall.
I encourage those who may have differing opinions to talk to Black or Native people who may be offended by this statue to gain perspective other than their own, and to research Columbus’ actions throughout his voyages. While this may not be the largest issue that needs to be dealt with, it can be a small step towards making Scotch Plains a place where all groups are accurately depicted, valued, and heard. Making this change will create a better future, while we continue to be educated on these topics in order to grow and learn.
Anyone interested or passionate about this topic should attend the upcoming Town Council meeting on July 21 where the removal of this statue will be discussed. To promote growth in our town, sign the petition to remove/alter the statue.
Scotch Plains, NJ