08 October 2023
This Monday is Columbus Day in the United States.
The U.S. government established Columbus Day as a national holiday in 1934 to honor the explorer Christopher Columbus. The day recognizes Columbus's arrival in the Americas in October 1492.
Recently, critics have said that Columbus did not "discover" America since native people already lived there. His explorations helped open the way for a huge migration of Europeans to what they called The New World. This brought war, disease and death to many native peoples.
Some American states have since moved away from honoring Columbus and instead observe a day for Native American people.
In 2021, President Joe Biden issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples' Day. The day is to be celebrated along with Columbus Day.
The May 2020 death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in the state of Minnesota, led to nationwide protests against police use of force and racial injustice. Protestors directed some of their anger at statues and monuments honoring Confederate officials from the American Civil War. Many cities then removed the statues and monuments said to be connected to racial injustice, racism and slavery.
The anger led to protest attacks on memorials to Columbus around the country. Statues of the explorer were taken down in Boston, Chicago and many other cities.
A statue was removed, then returned
In the Rhode Island capital of Providence, a statue of Christopher Columbus was also removed in June 2020. The removal came after protestors covered it with red paint and a sign, reading "Stop celebrating genocide." The statue was placed in storage and then purchased for about $50,000 by former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino.
After three years out of the public eye, the statue will return to a park in the city of Johnston, about 14 kilometers west of the capital. The statue will be officially uncovered on Monday.
Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr. said people of his heavily Italian-American town are pleased to give the statue a new home.
"It's important and not just for Italian Americans. It's American history. It's world history, if you look at it from a historical perspective," he said. "People should learn about him, the good and the bad."
Not everyone is happy with the return of the explorer's statue.
Harrison Tuttle is president of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC. Tuttle said he understands the connection that many of Italian ancestry feel for Columbus. But he wished the mayor had spoken with members of the community who were offended by the decision to return the statue.
"My grandmother who helped raise me was Italian and I grew up in a majority Italian neighborhood," he said. "At the same time, there are better ways to celebrate your heritage and culture without celebrating someone who in my opinion is the exact opposite of what Italian culture is."
Darrell Waldron, director of the Rhode Island Indian Council, is the son of a Narragansett father and a Wampanoag mother. He said he and others hoped that the statue would have been sold off and kept out of public view, with money going toward a new statue.
"I would love to see a statue of Native women," he said. "It doesn't always have to be a man."
The debate over the statue in Rhode Island is part of a larger debate in America about what to call the federal holiday that falls on Monday, October 9, this year.
I'm Caty Weaver.
Hai Do adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting from Mario Ritter, Jr. of VOA and The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
perspective - n. a way of thinking about or understanding something
heritage - n. traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc... that are part of the history of a group ore nation