Across Latinidad, Protestors Are Toppling and Vandalizing Statues Of Christopher Columbus
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As we all know, Monday was Columbus Day here in the U.S. Since 1971*, Columbus Day has been a federal holiday in the states–a day where Americans honor Christopher Columbus–the 15th century Italian explorer who, for so long, has been crediting with “discovering” the Americas.
But in 2021, many Latin Americans aren’t so keen to celebrate Christopher Columbus anymore.
Columbus Day–or a version of it–isn’t just celebrated in the U.S. Throughout the Western Hemisphere, many countries acknowledge the time around October 12th as a time to celebrate the “discovery” of the Americas. In Mexico and Colombia, it is known as “Día de la Raza”. In the Dominican Republic, it is known as “Día de la Hispanidad”. In Belize, it is known as “Pan America Day.”
Over the years, the public attitude towards Christopher Columbus has eroded. While people in the Western Hemisphere used to hold up Columbus as a symbol of the New World, we now see him differently. We now know that he perpetuated crimes against humanity on indigenous peoples. He fueled a movement of mass genocide, rape, and slavery. Christopher Columbus was no hero. And more and more, folks across Latinidad want the historical record to reflect that.
This year, celebrations of Christopher Columbus were marked by protests across Latinidad and the Carribean.
In the Dominican Republic, which traditionally celebrates Día de la Hispanidad, folks marched, demanding the removal of a statue of Columbus in the Dominican capital. The protestors carried signs that read: “We don’t want Columbus here”. Protestors wanted to stop the historical veneration of Columbus and instead, recognize October 12th for what it actually is: the anniversary of the beginning of a genocide.
In Guatemala, there were similar demonstrations. On Tuesday, protestors attempted to topple over a statue of Christopher Columbus in Guatemala City. It should be noted that Spain gave the statue to Guatemala in 1896 as a gift. Video posted to social media showed protestors tying a rope around the neck of the statue, trying, and failing, to pull it down. Later, Guatemala City called the actions of the protestors “acts of vandalism” and referred to the statue as “historical heritage”.
While in the past, many Latinos identified with Spanish conquistadors, lately, folks have now started to honor their connection to their indigenous ancestors as well.
The shift from identifying with the oppressors to the oppressed comes with a larger wave of sensitivity towards social justice and a broader education of the plight of indigenous folks. During the racial awakening of 2020, a statue of Christopher Columbus in Mexico City was vandalized so badly and so often, that the Mexican government decided to permanently take it down. On Tuesday, the Mexico City government announced that they would be replacing the statue with that of a sculpture of a pre-Hispanic Indigenous woman.
“Giving indigenous women this special space has great symbolism in our city,” said Claudia Sheinbaum, the Head of Government of Mexico City. “The most discriminated against are precisely indigenous women.”
She continued: “They are those who have had the least voice to whom we must give a voice (…) And we must feel proud as inhabitants of this city that the indigenous women of our country are represented in this very special place of Reformation.”