Italian Americans Say Removing Syracuse’s Columbus Statue Would Erase History

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SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) – Supporters of the statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Syracuse are starting a petition drive to let city officials know they’re not happy with the possibility of tearing the statue down.

Dozens gathered at Syracuse’s statue of Christopher Columbus Thursday, in support of the monument ELLEN ABBOTT / WRVO NEWS

Dozens of Italian Americans rallied Thursday in the shadow of the controversial statue. Carrying Italian flags and signs, they say they won’t be quiet anymore about a drive to bring the statue down.

“I think there’s a perception out there that somehow our silence has misinterpreted our resolve to keep the statue. That’s going to end today,” said Michael Vavonese, one of several speakers at the rally.

They pointed out the history of the monument that has anchored Columbus Circle for 86 years. They say the history of Italian Americans in Syracuse is exemplified by that statue, and shouldn’t be lost.

Former State Sen. John DeFrancisco said taking the statue down would erase that history.

“This is not about anything evil. This is about unity. And we want to make sure that we don’t have the city of Syracuse in 2020 to make a horrible, irretrievable, irreparable mistake,” said DeFrancisco.

CREDIT ELLEN ABBOTT / WRVO NEWS

Opponents of the statue have called on Mayor Ben Walsh to tear it down because of Columbus’s role in the colonization of the New World at the expense of indigenous people. Syracuse monument depicts Columbus standing over the heads of four native people.

Walsh has created a 23-member task force to make recommendations for the statue, and is pushing the creation of an educational center to emphasize the indigenous peoples of central New York.

Tony Pietrafesa, who’s family helped raise the money to build the statue in 1934, said they’re not opposed to that.

“The Columbus statue speaks to the story of Italian Americans in Syracuse. If they want to add other stories, they should. It’s great. But let’s keep the Columbus statue. It deserves to stay here as a testament to all of us and the gratitude we have to this country,” he said.