Italian-Americans rally on Columbus Day, call for Chicago to put statues of explorer back up

Chicago News

CHICAGO —  Dozens of Italian-Americans held a rally at Columbus Plaza Monday morning, calling for Chicago to bring back statues of Christopher Columbus that were removed over the summer.

Since 1952, Italian-Americans in Chicago have celebrated their heritage with a parade on Columbus Day. With the parade canceled due to the pandemic, many still came together Monday to call on the city to return the statue of Columbus to Arrigo Park, saying a piece of their history is missing as long as it’s not on display.

Some at Monday’s rally said Columbus Day is not just about tradition, but also about their own family stories.

“Our parents looked up to him because of what he did, gave them faith and hope coming to America… it pays tribute to the journeys of their own families,” Frank Dipaolo said. “I just think It’s important to honor them so what they went through isn’t forgotten.”

As a national conversation about systemic racism expanded to include many historical figures over the summer, protesters and police clashed when some tried to tear down the Columbus statue in Grant Park. 

While many in the Italian American community respect Columbus for his bravery, activists condemn him for his treatment of indigenous people.

The city later removed all of his statues until further notice, and Chicago Public Schools changed the name of its Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous People’s Day.

Those at the rally Monday said celebrating Italian heritage and indigenous people doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario.

“We welcome indigenous people. We want you to have your day. We will march with you arm in arm, celebrate with you, mourn with you. We just do not believe a day that celebrates your culture needs to come with it a price tag of our federal holiday,” said Ron Onesti, a participant at the rally.

Rally organizers told us they hope these conversations lead to more momentum for next year’s celebration. They called it a proud and positive rally, but say just because it’s positive — doesn’t mean they are backing down.

At the time the statue was removed, Lightfoot said it was until further notice. On Columbus Day, the Italian-American community says the time is now.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted Monday morning saying, “In Chicago, we have committed to reimagining how statues—symbols of our history and sometimes reminders of atrocities—live in our public spaces. As I have said, these statues must represent all who make up our history, especially women and people of color.”

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