SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- The national Christopher Columbus statue debate has arrived in Scotch Plains.
Across the U.S., monuments to the Italian explorer have become the targets for protesters. Last week, the Columbus statue in Newark was removed, as was a statue in New Haven, Connecticut, which was shifted from a city park to the national headquarters of the Knights of Columbus less than a mile away. The mayor of Columbus, Ohio, supported removing the statue in his city, which, of course, is named for the Genoa-born sailor.
On Monday, Scotch Plains resident George Ulerio set up a petition Take down the Columbus Statue at the Scotch Plains Municipal Building on Change.org and went on Facebook to drum up signatures.
Help me take this Christopher Columbus Statue down! He is not in any way representative of this community with all of the atrocities he has committed against humanity. Let's tear this down and replace this with something that actually represents our community's true values! - George Ulerio (Facebook post)
The monument depicts the explorer's hand holding an orange, which he used to explain that the world is round, and three sails depicting his ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. It was designed by Lennox Brown, a Union County College architecture student from Newark, and sculpted by Gheorghi Filin, who lives in Italy.
Scotch Plains is the home of many immigrants who came to this country from Montazzoli, Italy, during the early and mid-20th century. Italian Americans have long celebrated Columbus as an icon of their heritage.
"I learned this morning about a petition seeking the removal of the Christopher Columbus monument that rests immediately in front of the Scotch Plains Municipal Building since 1998. I admit having mixed feelings about its removal," said Deputy Mayor Josh Losardo in his own post on Change.org.
"I hope that residents with distinct viewpoints participate," wrote Losardo, who has called for the next Town Council meeting (July 21, 2020) to include a discussion about the Columbus monument.
Last Columbus Day, I listened as Paul Raphael, president of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood chapter of UNICO, shared “I'm sure Columbus had his faults, as we all do, but he lived in a different time and in a different world… to me, Columbus represents the values of discovery and risk that are at the heart of the American Dream." I expect that many residents feel similarly. -- Deputy Mayor Josh Losardo
Meanwhile, in just two days, the petition to remove the Columbus monument has garnered 1,300 signatures (and counting). The text of the petition is below. Anyone wishing to sign it, can do it here:
Scotch Plains is a town that promotes diversity and equality for all of its residents and contains a significant amount of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC). That being said, many of these Scotch Plains residents have had their cultures, heritages, and ancestries decimated from the racist colonization, genocide, rape, and enslavement of millions of BIPOC at the hands of Christopher Columbus. The effects of the barbaric Trans-Atlantic Slave trade that lasted over 400 years are still felt to this day by Scotch Plains's current community members of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Hispanic descent.
There is currently a statue of Christopher Columbus's hand that sits in the center of town in front of the Scotch Plains police department and municipal building. We, as taxpayers of a town that is supposed to promote diversity and equality, demand that the statue be removed immediately as it promotes an atmosphere of white supremacy, imperialism, genocide, racism, and rape. Having a statue in front of the most notable building in town only perpetuates these ideas of racism and white supremacy that exist currently within our own town and this country. Columbus is not reflective of the supposed views of our town, and he should not be martyred in this town.
We demand the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue immediately.
Republican Freeholder candidate Joe Sarno has an opposing view and set up his own Change.org petition, Preserve and Protect the Columbus Monument in Scotch Plains.
It's hard to believe that almost 22 years later, this sculpture is in danger of being taken down. The proponents of such a move would rather push a narrative that Columbus was a conqueror and not the explorer who represents the journey so many immigrants, Italian or not, made in order to come to this country. -- Joe Sarno
TAPintoSPF reached out to several prominent Scotch Plains leaders about the Columbus monument. No one besides Losardo was interested in speaking on the record about the controversy, although some privately admitted feeling conflicted between pride in their Italian heritage and the historical record of Christopher Columbus the man.
Earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, one of the country's best known Italian Americans, said he does not believe the statue in Columbus Circle should be removed.
"The Christopher Columbus statue represents, in some ways, the Italian American legacy," Cuomo said during a June 11 press conference. ""I understand the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts, which nobody would support. But the statue of Columbus has come to represent and signify appreciation of the Italian American contribution to New York, and for that reason, I support it."