SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Following much public debate about the Columbus Monument in Scotch Plains during the past two weeks, three local organizations --Scotch Plains-Fanwood UNICO, Scotch Plains Italian American Club, and the Knights of Columbus (Rev. John S. Nelligan Council 5730) -- have joined to formulate a response to those who have recently advocated for removal of the statue.
In their response, the organizations provide links to research that they believe accurately counter the anti-Columbus Monument movement's criticism of the Italian navigator who famously sailed to the Americas in 1492. Their statement follows below:
The debate and polarization of the Columbus Monument in Scotch Plains comes at a time when celebrating Independence Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays, and more recently, the hit musical Hamilton, have all come under scrutiny.
Little agreement exists regarding Christopher Columbus’s past, even among established historians. However, it remains undisputed that Columbus lived more than 500 years ago in a world far different from the world we know today. As such, Columbus should not be held to today’s standards when being judged. This issue becomes increasingly important when juxtaposed with revisionist historical interpretations of what occurred many centuries ago.
Modern interpretation of Columbus originates largely from often-questioned historian Howard Zinn, whose publication, A People’s History of the United States, influenced modern instruction about Columbus. However, Zinn has his own critics, some of whom have uncovered significant misinterpretations and omissions in his historical account of Columbus. To better understand the issue, everyone should both provide and examine factual information and supported arguments on both sides of the issue to promote meaningful dialogue. The resources below, for example, provide an alternate view of Columbus and also supply the facts behind the genesis of the Columbus Monument in Scotch Plains, which has been misunderstood by some people as well:
While many historical facts are often gleaned from secondary sources and, in some cases, hearsay, the meaning of the Scotch Plains Columbus Monument remains steadfast for our Italian American community, which embraces those aspects of Columbus’s expedition that celebrate what was once an ethnically marginalized population.
While those closest to Columbus are the truest experts of his history, we are blessed with our own local experts, many of whom have consulted on the Scotch Plains Columbus Monument. Conversing with any longstanding member of our community, or local politicians from the time, reveals that the Scotch Plains Columbus Monument was dedicated not only to commemorate the bravery and vision of an Italian explorer who journeyed into the unknown aboard a 117-foot long vessel, but also, and more importantly, to honor the tenacity, work ethic, and contributions of our local Italian community who, beginning with the Del Nero family in 1869, immigrated to Scotch Plains.
Many Scotch Plains residents know that most of these Italians arrived – with just the clothes on their back – from the tiny village of Montazzoli (located in the Abruzzi region of Italy), hoping to live out their parents’ dreams of better lives for their children. These families have prospered in our community and likely number in the thousands. Their stories are unique, and their contributions to our local community, our state, and our country are immeasurable; in many ways, the Columbus Monument honors them as well. To remove it simply because of its name, or because some judge Columbus by today’s societal standards, would demean our local Italians’ rich heritage, their significant struggles, and their incredible accomplishments.
While we truly appreciate Deputy Mayor Josh Losardo’s offer to conduct an online meeting to facilitate healthy discussion on this topic, we feel that this marginalizes the local experts who could provide the most insight into the monument’s history and meaning but who may not be able to partake in a technologically advanced council meeting. Rather, these discussions should be held in a public forum where our community can come together. We suggest an outdoor event on the Scotch Plains Village Green or some other large area that provides the opportunity for all residents to engage civilly in meaningful public discourse.
Finally, a small percentage of the community should not be the basis for any decision to modify or to remove this statue in any way, shape, or form. While this project was privately funded and has been privately maintained, significant taxpayer dollars would be required to modify or to remove this monument; as such, any decision to do so should be made by the citizens of Scotch Plains and Fanwood either via a question in the November election or as a referendum on the candidates for election, after they make public their individual positions on possible removal of the monument. Either option would provide ample opportunity for all residents to have their votes counted and would allow those remaining vocally silent to be heard as well.
While we acknowledge Christopher Columbus’s shortcomings and certainly do not condone some of his past acts, we call upon a more mature, balanced discussion of Columbus by historians and the community at large. As Italian Americans, we want to honor those aspects of Columbus’s voyage and expedition that helped pave the way for Italian immigrants and for all Americans. Thank you.
The link to the petition to preserve and protect the Columbus monument can be found here.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood UNICO,
Scotch Plains Italian American Club
Knights of Columbus - Rev. John S. Nelligan Council 5730
Scotch Plains Deputy Mayor Josh Losardo has proposed a public discussion of the topic at the July 21st Scotch Plains Township Council meeting.