By Ken Stone
A day after Boston removed a Christopher Columbus statue — which vandals had beheaded — the city of Chula Vista took down its own 8-foot, 1,200-pound tribute to the Italian explorer.
The bronze statue was removed from its pedestal at Discovery Park early Friday and placed in storage “out of public safety concerns,” city officials said without citing the East Coast incident.
But local Italian Americans are unhappy with the action — at least the treasurer of San Diego’s Sons of Italy chapter.“These are very sad times for the Italian American community!” said Grace Sardina, whose husband, Salvatore, is vice president of the 25-member group that is half female. (A North county chapter has about the same number, she said.)
“We are deeply saddened with removal of the statue,” Sardina said via Facebook. “The city of Chula Vista should have consulted the Italian Americans of San Diego for their input.”
City officials said the statue, which has been in the park at 700 Buena Vista Way since 1991, has been under consideration for removal, but COVID-19 restrictions have prevented a public forum on the matter.
The figure has been a target for vandals over the years, with uproar over the statue triggering the Chula Vista Human Relations Commission to approve a resolution in February asking the City Council to consider removing it.
In a statement issued Friday, Councilman Steve Padilla said the statue “has been a source of controversy over the years, including repeated instances of vandalism and protest. Many have asked for its removal, and given all that is happening nationwide regarding America’s legacy of racism, the city decided to put it in storage.
“I look forward to an important community conversation about the final fate of the statue, as well as further actions the city can take to ensure that all Chula Vistans feel safe and welcome in our community,” he said.
The 275,000-population city’s statement said that while public health considerations have delayed a public forum, “it is expected that the item will be brought forward for further public input and consideration.”
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Sons of Italy’s Sardina shared a Facebook post that drew parallels between the Italian-American experience and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Because Italian-Americans were struggling against ethnic discrimination in the United States, celebrating the accomplishments of Christopher Columbus’ journey was a way for Italian Americans to be accepted,” she wrote Friday morning. “The first official commemoration of Columbus’ journey occurred in 1892, just a year after the New Orleans lynchings of 11 Italian Americans.“
In her post, Sardina said it was hypocritical to rally for equal rights and humanity for all that have been oppressed and not understand how Columbus Day celebrated the safe haven America provided all immigrants “suffering in modern day.”
“Ironically, it was also a day to honor a group of individuals that were being grossly discriminated against and giving them a day to celebrate their heritage,” she said.
Sardina said the group — a fraternal organization open to all — doesn’t have any formal protest planned to Chula Vista officials.
She said a lack of understanding exists about Columbus Day in the “new generations,” and was “not even sure how Columbus statues got dragged into all this.”
— City News Service contributed to this report
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