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Italian-American Societies of WNY unveil new design for statue to replace Columbus

A clay model of the promised Italian heritage sculpture in WNY depicts an immigrant family looking off to the horizon as a young boy points to "The Promised Land."
Federation of Italian American Societies of WNY
A depiction of Henry Corsi Schmidt's "La Terra Promessa," a sculpture to replace the Federation of Italian American Societies' Christopher Columbus statue, now removed from it's spot off Prospect Avenue.

The Federation of Italian- American Societies of WNY have fresh designs for a replacement statue honoring immigrant families on the pedestal where their controversial Christopher Columbus likeness once stood.

The Columbus statue was a frequent target of vandals, and the Federation and city officials removed it in July of last year with plans to install it in a less public place. It had often been defaced, painted on and even had a bag once placed over its head as part of protests of Columbus's treatment of indigenous people.

Native Americans have long criticized the inaccuracies and harmful narratives of Columbus' legacy that credited him with his "discovery" of the Americas when Indigenous people were there first.

President Biden issued a proclamation on Friday to observe this Oct. 11 as a day to honor Native Americans, their resilience and their contributions to American society throughout history, even as they faced assimilation, discrimination and genocide spanning generations.

Indigenous Peoples' Day advocates say the recognition helps correct a "whitewashed" American history that has glorified Europeans like Columbus who have committed violence against Indigenous communities.

The move shifts focus from Columbus Day, the federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus, which now shares the same date as Indigenous Peoples' Day and has traditionally been a point of pride for Italian-Americans.

When the city moved the statue, they promised to rename Columbus Park where it stood. Meanwhile, the Federation, an umbrella group of several Italian heritage groups in Western New York, began fundraising for a statue that could celebrate Italian immigration to the region.

La Terra Promessa- columbus statue
Federation of Italian American Societies of WNY via Facebook
An artist's depiction of "La Terra Promessa", installed on a pedestal that once held a statue of Christopher Columbus

Pictures of a clay model and an artist's rendering of the replacement statue on the former Columbus pedestal were unveiled at the federations annual Columbus weekend dinner on Sunday evening.

The sculpture is titled "La Terra Promessa" or "The Promised Land " in English.

Conceived by Henry Corsi Schmidt, the new sculpture depicts an Italian family arriving in America or perhaps Buffalo, said Peter Lojacano, the federation's president. It features a mother holding a small child, standing next to the father. A young boy stands next to them on a suitcase and Lajocano says he is pointing in the distance to "America, possibly Buffalo or the statue of Liberty... La Terra Promessa."

Fundraising for the new statue and a museum to hold the Columbus statue are underway. "La Promessa Terra" is likely to be installed within the next year and a half, LoJacano said.

The original Columbus Day was proclaimed in October 1971, after strong lobbying by the National Columbus Day Committee, founded by Buffalonian Mariano Lucca in 1966.

Dave Debo's journalism career runs the gamut from public radio to commercial radio, from digital projects to newspapers. With over 30 years of experience, he's produced national television news programs and has worked as both a daily and weekly print journalist and web editor.