MEXICO CITY (AP) – A statue of Christopher Columbus that has been removed from Mexico City’s central boulevard won’t be back for months.
Restorers say years of protest and weather graffiti wreaked havoc on the 1877 statuary and that it won’t be ready to be relocated until the first half of 2022, and when it does come back up, it will be in a less prominent and less sensitive place.
It was supposedly removed last year for restoration, shortly before October 12, which Americans know as Columbus Day but Mexicans call “Dia de la Raza” or “Day of the Race” – the anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492. Protesters frequently targeted the statue of Christopher Columbus for graffiti.
City officials announced this week that Columbus and the four missionaries surrounding him will be relocated to a park in an upscale neighborhood in Mexico City. The main site on the city’s iconic Reforma Boulevard will be assigned a statue of an indigenous woman, but a replacement has yet to be chosen.
The decision to replace him made Mexico cringe, just as the presence of the Italian explorer had angered supporters of indigenous rights. They say that Columbus did not “discover” the Americas – indigenous peoples had lived there for a long time – and that he only ushered in a colonial era of theft, displacement and death.
Diego Jáuregui is the restorer at the head of a team from the National Institute of Anthropology and History tasked with restoring the standing figure of Columbus and the seated figure of the monks around him.
Jáuregui tries not to get into the politics of all of this.
“The only thing I can say is that we have no control over the meaning people give to historical monuments or cultural heritage,” Jáuregui said.
“Culture and society are changing and we cannot prevent things from happening,” he said, apparently referring to the red paint that protesters sprayed on Columbus, in protest at the treatment of peoples indigenous.
“What we can do, however, is fulfill our duty to protect, safeguard and pass on to future (generations) these historic monuments, beyond any significance or controversy,” he said.
Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said the place on a roundabout on Reforma Boulevard should be given to an indigenous woman because “we owe them (…) the history of our country, of our homeland. “.
Sheinbaum said that the function of statues is to communicate history, and the fact that Columbus appeared in a heroic pose in such an important place had the effect of silencing the other part of the story. Replacing him on the spot “is an act against historical silence,” she said.
Sheinbaum appeared pleased with a city committee’s decision to place the explorer in a quiet park in the upscale Polanco neighborhood, where protests rarely take place. She called him a “great international figure”.
But opposition to what critics call “erasing history” has also arisen. A petition posted on the Change.org site calling for the return of Columbus to its original location has collected more than 31,000 signatures.
“We Mexicans, and in particular the inhabitants of the capital, feel indignant and offended by the removal of our historical heritage,” the petition says.
“We believe this is a populist decision by the mayor who only represents a minority of the population who agree with his revisionist version of history, regardless of the fact that the statue does has nothing to do with ideology “, we can read.
But supporters of the decision say the time is right: this year marks the 700th anniversary of the founding of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan – what is now Mexico City – as well as the 500th anniversary of its fall to the conquistadors. Spanish, and the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s definitive independence from Spain.
Most Mexicans have indigenous ancestors and are well aware that millions of indigenous people died of violence and disease during and after the conquest.
The city authorities had initially proposed that a modernist head of an indigenous woman, a sculpture known as “Tlali”, go to the site. But now they say a decision has yet to be made.
Mexico City is not the only metropolis that has had problems. Statues of Christopher Columbus have been attacked and even knocked down in Chile, Colombia and the United States. In 2013, the city government of Buenos Aires, Argentina, decided to replace a statue of Christopher Columbus near the seat of government with that of independence hero and part indigenous Juana Azurduy.
Jáuregui is working on the restoration of the bronze statue of Columbus in a protected area covered with tents. The layers of paint and graffiti reflect every October 12 she’s been through.
“As it’s become a recurring phenomenon, you just see it as part of your job, as something inevitable that happens,” he says of the damage.