A year ago the Peruvian artist Daniela Ortiz, 35, went live in Public mirror because he had starred in a claim against the colonial monuments at the foot of the famous statue of the Italian sailor in Madrid, where conservative groups have met several times to claim his patriotic ideal.
For Ortiz, the monuments dedicated to Columbus and the Spanish military that “invaded America” five centuries ago must be demolished from public space. He said they are symbols that vindicate white supremacy and that is why they should be vandalized and removed from the streets. For Ortiz, these sculptures honor in Europe and Spain a colonial process that is still in force and ends the lives of thousands of people, through migration control processes. Then Susanna Griso told the artist that the statue of Columbus did not offend her. To which Ortiz responded quickly: “Sure, because you’re white.”RELATED
It was one of the few iconoclastic chapters in Spain, if not the only one, that emerged with the Black Lives Matter movement, after the Minneapolis police assassinated George Floyd.
Between June and July 2020, more than thirty monuments of Christopher Columbus were destroyed, beheaded, burned and defaced in various cities in the United States. In less than 24 hours after the fall of the first statue of the Italian explorer in Richmond, Virginia, another bronze was demolished in Minnesota, after a group of protesters tied ropes around the neck of the piece and tore it from the pedestal.
As many others went to Byrd Park in Richmond to tear down the sculpture of the “conqueror.” Once they toppled it, wrapped it in an American flag and set it on fire. After burning it, anti-racist and anti-colonial heritage activists dragged the stone figure to a nearby lake and threw it into the water.
In Latin America, the anti-symbolic earthquake had its epicenter in Colombia, but it spread throughout all countries with monuments that were erected four centuries after the arrival of the Spanish. The last to fall have been those dedicated to Columbus and Queen Isabel la Católica, inaugurated in 1906 in Bogotá. A few days ago, the Ministry of Culture gave the order to remove the figures.
“We are the survivors of those you could not kill”: this is how the Misak people, originally American, defined themselves in front of the statue that paid homage to the Spanish soldier Sebastián de Belalcázar, placed in Popayán. The protesters demolished last year the sculpture that had been placed in 1940 and the Ministry of Culture already explained then what it has now communicated with the withdrawal of the explorer and the monarch: it wants to open a dialogue “to reflect on the meaning and value of the cultural heritage”.
Faced with the incidents in Popayán, the Minister of Culture, Carmen Vásquez, repudiated the action but announced that the demolished image would not be restored. The action also prompted the minister to open a conversation “to restore memory and tell the story that has not been told.”
The philosopher Reyes Mate writes in Are victims a necessary price (Editorial Trotta, 2016) that there is a debt to violence from the duty of memory, “recognizing the relevance of past injustices and asking ourselves today about the validity today of those logics that caused the injustices that we know in the past.” To the question who determines what is offensive, the philosopher answers that the victims. Because the memory of these, says the author, does not lead to revenge, but to reconciliation. That is the claim of the native peoples who denounce that they continue to be expelled from their lands and institutions by the heirs of the invaders. “The memory of the victims is not an obstacle to peace, an invitation to confrontation, but the foundation of a lasting peace,” says Reyes Mate.
Along these lines, the Colombian authorities understand this dismantling of statues as an opportunity to “advance in the creation of spaces” in which the community’s own identity must be made known and also in search of peace in the region. . The idolatry of these characters aspires to admiration, many centuries after their historical performance, but inevitably leads to destruction, because they are emblems destined to perpetuate and impose ideas on the heir populations of those they honor.
The Americanist movements against these sculptures predate 2020, but last year the reactions against them multiplied. It is likely that it was not more than the anticipation of what will happen to a greater extent in 2021, when two centuries of decolonization and independence are celebrated in countries such as Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Panama .
Those opposed to the disappearance of these monuments from the public thoroughfare assure that the purpose is to “erase history.” Those who defend the uprisings against public monuments say they are not rebelling against history, but against the signs produced by interests that do not represent the entire community. They also ensure that it is not the statues or their payers who write history.
Colombia’s position is the same as that defended in the last year by the US mayors who decided to remove these monuments, whose presence was increased in the 20th century to recognize the presence of the Italian-American community. Frank Moran, mayor of Camden (New Jersey), gave the order to remove the statue of Columbus, with which the city lived since 1915, and declared that the statue was “offensive to all people of color, whether black or brown. ”.
In a statement, the mayor said the statue had long been “a controversial symbol” and its presence “hurt” the residents of the community, who had sent him numerous requests for removal. “The community no longer supports the monument. There were many atrocities towards the human beings who were on the island of Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean by this individual ”, added the mayor.
Mike Purzycki, mayor of Wilmington (Delaware), assured that he had news that the monument made by Egidio Giaroli, in 1957, was going to be vandalized and they decided to remove it from the public highway before it happened. He stored it “to open a discussion on the public display of historical figures and events.” The mayor noted: “We cannot erase history, painful as it may be, but we can certainly discuss history among ourselves and together determine what we value and what we think is appropriate to remember.”
“I really believe that people need to be heard and the historical pain they have suffered, whether we like it or not, needs to be recognized if our nation is to heal,” said Mary Casillas Salas, mayor of Chula Vista, California, who also gave the order to send to the municipal warehouse the image of Colón, located in the Discovery Park, since 1991.
In West Orange (New Jersey), Mayor Robert Parisi ordered the removal of the monument that had been inaugurated in 1992, because, as he declared at the time, “the legend of Columbus does not coincide with history. And today, the man, the statues, the monuments that celebrate his life divide, and a symbol of hatred and oppression cannot remain as part of our community ”.
After 134 years located in St. Louis Park, the statue of St Louis (Missouri) was set aside because “for many it symbolizes a historical contempt for indigenous peoples and cultures and the destruction of their communities,” those responsible explained in a statement that they oversee the park. After the vote of the Board, they were in favor of the removal of the image created by the German sculptor Ferdinand von Miller II, who in 1884 portrayed the bearded sailor. The authorities pointed out that it was erected as a way to “celebrate the contributions of immigrants.” With this decision they reaffirmed their commitment, they explained, to be “a place of welcome.”
The colossal statue of Columbus in the city that bears his name, Columbus (Ohio), was not spared either. Its mayor decided to get off his pedestal to the image that for 65 years had remembered him as a mature man, although without the attributes of his iconography, and store it. “For many people in our community, the statue represents patriarchy, oppression and division. And that does not represent our great city. We will no longer live in the shadow of our past. It is time to replace this statue with artwork that demonstrates our enduring fight to end racism and celebrate diversity and inclusion, ”said Mayor Andrew J. Ginther.
But the most significant withdrawal of all was the one signed by the president of the California Senate, Toni G. Atkins, with which he removed the sculptural group from public view. Columbus’s last request to Queen Elizabeth, after 137 years present in the rotunda of the Capitol.
“Christopher Columbus is a deeply controversial historical figure, given the deadly impact that his arrival in this hemisphere had on indigenous populations. The continued presence of this statue in the California Capitol, where it has been since 1883, is completely out of place today. It will be withdrawn, ”said the order of the Democrat, signed three weeks after the murder of George Floyd.
It was not a group of protesters, gathered in a park in a meeting called by social networks. The dome of the executive authority was overthrowing a symbol of the past, which it considered out of place by 2020 civil standards.