The Controversy of Christopher Columbus



The statue across the street from the county courthouse is the subject of the debate.

Perhaps The Controversy of Christopher Columbus is the wrong wording. There is no true controversy surrounding the Italian explorer, only the truth of his tyrannical past fighting against a white savior narrative that (some) Americans of European descent feel the duty to protect. 

Let me put this nicely to those who continuously try to preserve a falsified narrative about Columbus: you are basking in the privilege of never having to face the direct consequences of his actions. Your point of view is sculpted from bliss ignorance and your cries for the safeguarding of pro-Columbus narratives are fueled by a false sense of oppression. 

These colonial narratives are also still prevalent in Syracuse. Specifically, in regards to the Christopher Columbus monument on East Onondaga Street. The demand for this statue to be removed has noticeably increased in recent years, but so has the movement to preserve it. 

Speaking about the monument at an October 9, 2020 press conference, Mayor Ben Walsh said, “This space should be both a tribute to Italian Americans and a place of healing at which we celebrate our shared accomplishments.” 

I’m grateful that Mayor Ben Walsh spoke on the controversy instead of staying silent, but his statement confuses me. He wants a place of healing, a place where the groups affected by Columbus are acknowledged. However, Mayor Walsh also wishes to “celebrate shared accomplishments.” In the most simplistic way, this is a compromise. 

He will appease those who are in opposition to the Columbus statue by acknowledging the Onondaga Nation while also catering to those who feel as if taking away the statue is disrespectful. What Mayor Walsh fails to understand is a compromise isn’t any better. He may as well just keep the statue up as his stance continues to show an appreciation to colonialism. 

To address Walsh’s want for the space to be a tribute to Italian Americans, we don’t need honoring. Yes, there was a time where Italian Americans were faced with constant nativism and xenophobia but there has been an intense Americanization for people of my heritage. We are not even close to being under-appreciated.

Just look at the name of the very city these events are taking place in: Syracuse. A name derived from a city that exists in Italy. Is having the name of a city derived from our culture not enough? Or must we want more? We have our representation, now it’s time to let other groups rightfully have theirs.

The removal of the Columbus statue would be a move in the right direction for the city of Syracuse too. A city that has historically been noted for its issues of systemic and racial discrimination must stop continuously perpetuating this reputation. We must embrace the modernity of change instead of fighting it.