A Sussex County businessman is defying the social movement to remove controversial monuments from public squares that began last summer, and instead rededicated a statue of Christopher Columbus yesterday at the Skylands Stadium in Augusta, New Jersey.
“That’s where the statue is now,” said Al Dorso, owner of the stadium, who relocated the statue at his own expense, “and that’s where it’s going to stay.”
The statue, formerly located near the old Italian Tribune headquarters on Bloomfield Avenue in Newark, was one of two Columbus statues that were ordered by Mayor Ras Baraka to be removed, as Jersey Digs reported. But the Columbian Foundation, an Italian-American civic association, was tipped off by North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos in time to organize counter-protesters to surround the statue.
The Italian Tribune, whose publisher is a descendent of Ace Alagna, who donated the statue to the newspaper in 1974, demanded that the statue be removed by their own privately hired contractor. The statue was being stored at an undisclosed farm in West Caldwell before it was relocated to the stadium, Dorso said.
In the early 20th century, statues of Columbus became common in places with sizable Italian-American communities who gifted them to their cities. The prevailing myth of the 15th-century Italian explorer having “discovered” the Americas made southern Italian immigrants, who were mistreated, feel integral to the nation’s origin story. Not until the 19th century did historians begin serious scholarship on the life of Columbus. Source documents that were lost, scattered and poorly catalogued later disclosed his role in the genocide of indigenous people, leaving Italian-Americans still divided about what do to with the statue.
Dorso believes that removing Columbus statues dishonors his ancestors who overcame prejudice in the United States at the turn of the last century. “How we got Columbus Day and why we celebrate it is because of how we were tortured in this country,” Dorso said. “Italians help build this country and fought in wars and have been good citizens and assimilated well. This is our reward.”
Not all Italian-Americans are so uncompromising. Chuck Galli, a sociology professor at Sussex County Community College, believes that public monuments should represent the “current values of a society.”
“While Columbus may have been a point of pride for Genoese people living in the 15th and 16th centuries, I hardly see the connection between him and modern-day Italian-Americans,” said Galli, noting that Columbus was a northern Italian, unlike most 19th-century immigrants in the United States. “There are far better ways of celebrating these values than trying to hitch them to a navigator with an abysmal human rights record.”
What has happened, though, during a feverish movement to topple symbols of hatred, is that Italian-Americans feel they haven’t been consulted on the resolution. In cities like Newark, their monuments and holidays have simply been struck down and replaced with holidays and monuments honoring Black and indigenous people.