The Journal Square Community Association hosted a virtual debate last night over whether or not the Christopher Columbus statue in the plaza should be removed.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“History is subjective. It is often compromised of composite narratives. It is often fashioned by those with the most power,” said James Dievler, who moderated the forum.
Jae Yi, a resident of Journal Square, argued that the statue has overstayed its welcome.
He said it made sense to take down a statue that “no longer represented our values.”
Yi noted that in 1776 after a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a statue of King George III in New York City was taken down.
“It would be akin to a colonist in 1776 saying we need to keep the statue of King George … Christopher Columbus’s crimes were vile in even his time,” exclaiming that the often renowned Italian explorer was responsible for murders, rapes, and sadistic torture.
He said that there are countless other Italian Americans with far better track records who deserve to be acknowledged, mentioned 1984 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro and Dr. Anthony Fauci as possible alternatives.
Angelo Estrada expressed a different point of view, explaining that since he is half Italian and half Puerto Rican, he has been conflicted on the issue for some time.
“It’s very sad … I honor him for discovering America. I don’t really honor him for the atrocious things.”
Meanwhile, Dante Alighieri Society for Italian Americans President Albert Cupo argued against removing the statue.
“The statue itself represents a source of pride, not only for Italian people, but people who have come through Jersey City,” Cupo said.
The statue was unveiled in 1950. Cupo said it was previously across from the Loew’s Theater in Journal Square, but then moved to its present location in the 1980s.
“That statue represents everybody,” Cupo said.
He added Jersey City has an annual Columbus Day Parade where his organization places a wreath on the statue on Columbus Day.
“Without him, we wouldn’t be here, probably.”
Cupo also pointed out that due to the construction of One Journal Square Plaza, the statue will likely need to be moved anyway.
Others were not as forgiving when looking at Columbus’ track record as a whole.
“The Taino people in the DR [Dominican Republic] were essentially exterminated. In the DR, Columbus is seen, more like a bringer of genocide, a conquistador. I personally believe that a replacement statue should honor indigenous people,” asserted Carlos Fernandez.
“The Italians needed a hero to connect with the American people and picked Columbus. There’s plenty of great Italian people we can honor that’s not as divisive … Just put [Frank] Sinatra up there.”
From there, John Hallanan argued in favor of the statue remaining at its current location.
“Not everyone’s a saint … Nobody talks about the guys in Africa that captured these guys … and put the abled-bodied ones on ships that were part of the slave trade. Nobody does it like your own people,” he stated.
Still, not everyone who participated in the Zoom call shared that perspective.
“Christopher Columbus was a colonizer, a kidnapper, and a slaver. We absolutely should not honor him … Like Confederate statues, it represents hate to many people,” said Dana Patton.
She added that her family is Italian and that she still believes an indigenous statue would be better served that one of Columbus.
“As Italian Americans, we have to stop honoring mobsters or monsters.”
“As a kid going to school in the 50s and 60s, we learned nothing about Columbus’ treatment of indigenous people,” said JSCA Secretary Bill Armbruster.
Armbruster said that after hearing the arguments, he was personally swayed to say its time to remove the statue
“I’m sure within 50 or 100 years of Columbus, other explorers would have discovered the new world. Perhaps they would have been as brutal as Columbus, perhaps they would have been more benign,” Armbruster said.
Martin Pierce said the statue should be moved to Hudson Community College where a program on the nature of Columbus could be developed
“Columbus should not be honored. He promoted genocide. He promoted slavery. The statue should be moved,” Pierce said.
“He never set foot here,” added Julie Burna, who pointed out that Columbus discovering the Western Hemisphere, but not North America.
“The conditions at the colony were so atrocious … he was sent back to Spain in chains.”
Burna also contended that Columbus instituted systemic racism that is still plaguing us today. But yet again, others on the call felt otherwise.
“A professor at Harvard disputes what was said about Columbus,” began William Sventola.
“It was our way to be assimilated … He was almost considered for sainthood. Before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, maybe we should do a little homework.”