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What to do about Christopher Columbus? Discuss

Michael Mroziak
A large white stone slab (back right) is all that remains of the Christopher Columbus statue on Buffalo's West Side, as members of the Federation of Italian-American Societies announce the move Friday.

Nearly a century ago, when Buffalo's West Side was heavily Italian-American, the Federation of Italian-American Societies installed a large statue of Christopher Columbus along Porter Avenue, in what is now Columbus Park. The statute is now gone and the park name will be gone soon, as well.

Bella Ciao Buffalo describes itself as "next-generation Italian and Sicilian Buffalonians," compared to members of the Federation, who are older descendents. Bella Ciao activist Andrew Delmonte said people who live in the neighborhood now should decide what to do with the statue base, not the descendants of those who once lived in the community and originally installed the statue.

"As a group of folks who are coming together around this issue, we created some early demands and one of them, notably, is to have a full community process in determining what happens with the renaming of that park and that parkway," Delmonte said. "And I think that community should be representative of the neighborhood that actually lives there now."

Bella Ciao also points to Columbus' record as a slave trader and a man who shouldn't be praised by their ethnic compatriots. Delmonte said removing Columbus from history is a step toward improving American society and working with Indigenous people to alleviate what generations of immigrants have done to the people who once owned all of North and South America.

Native American activist John Kane said Columbus was an awful human being who started the takeover of indigenous lands by immigrants.

"There's a part of me that almost takes a little offense because of what natives he went through and what Blacks he went through," Kane said, "because our experience isn't that we left our lands to pursue a greater opportunity in the lands of somebody else. Ours is having that cost incurred to us because of what other people were trying to accomplish."  

He also said his people don't do statues.

"The whole idea of creating statues and likenesses of heroes -- made up or otherwise -- is not really our culture," Kane said. "In fact, when we tell stories, we often don't even use a given name. We tell a story that will be timeless and not based on necessarily a specific individual."

Ownership of the statue has been restored to the Federation, which paid for it in the 1930s.

“We want to relocate the statue to a location that we the Federation would decide upon,” said Don Alessi, past president of the Federation, speaking at the park Friday morning. “We wanted to preserve this space for a future memorial to the Italian immigrant.”

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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