Columbus protestors gain traction, numbers in Pueblo as they look beyond protests

PUEBLO – As the number of protesters grows every Sunday around Christopher Columbus Place, a resolution still appears distant as all sides look at potential next steps.

Protestors want the City of Pueblo to pass an ordinance to take down the statue and surrounding monument. The monument is owned by the City of Pueblo and maintained in part by the Sons of Italy.

The Sons of Italy, a local Italian organization, and others want the statue to stay up.

The Christopher Columbus monument was erected in 1905 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.

The structure consists of Columbus’ bust sculpted by Italian immigrant Pietro Piai. The foundation was constructed by Michele Albo, an Italian immigrant stone mason at the Colorado Fuel and & Iron Company. The podium of two globes and engraving was done by J.A. Byre, a stone cutter and Irish immigrant. Various accentures such as brickwork, fencing and decorations to the plaza have been added through donations by various Italian groups and the City of Pueblo over the years.

Currently, anti-Columbus activists want the City of Pueblo and the Mayor to officially remove the monument and plaza through a city ordinance by August 8.

The protestors say they are hopeful that after 20 years of protests, a conversation about the statue’s removal has finally been brought to city government.

Theresa Trujillo, an organizer of El Movimiento Sigue, the Chicano movement in Pueblo, said the newfound attention is largely due to heightened activism around the country.

“So many people saw it as an opportunity to really begin to address long standing ills, even in our community,” said Trujillo.

The local Order Sons of Italy have urged Puebloans, on social media, to contact the Mayor in support of keeping the statue and plaza.

On their website they call the removal of the statue “systemic dismantling of America” and questions if Mayor Gradisar supports an “inclusive heritage and culture values of Pueblo.”

Should Mayor Gradisar turn down the protests’ demands for removal, Trujillo said they won’t stop their call for action.

“This will continue to escalate. We will continue to get more and more numbers at the protests,” she said.

The protests were organized by the social justice organization, “For the People,” but consist of a number of organizations working in coalition with one another, which has fueled community engagement in Pueblo.

Trujillo said the Columbus protestor’s goal as a coalition of organizations and individuals is to work with History Colorado to educate the community about indigenous history in relation to Columbus.

“We feel like we have a trusted enough relationship with History Colorado to trust the handing over of the statue,” said Trujillo. “There’s no doubt that if this were actually gifted to History Colorado, and if there were an exhibit, there’s no doubt that we would continue to be a part of that process of education.”

During a Town Hall Meeting on July 10, Mayor Gradisar questioned the relevance of the statue’s removal.

“As I consider this issue, the thing I have not been able to answer is, how does removing this statue of a person who lived 500 years ago help the plight of the indigenous people in Pueblo, Colorado,” he said at the town hall.

Pueblo City Attorney, Daniel Kogovsek, said that if the mayor were to start the removal process, he would have to go through city council. The mayor, he said, can only implement an executive order when there’s a public emergency.

According to Kogovsek, the mayor has already looked at the protester’s ordinance and passed it on to City Council, who said they do not support it.

“Ultimately, city council makes the final decision,” said Kogovsek. “The statue doesn’t pose a risk to health and safety.”

Kogovsek added that the mayor discussed the idea of erecting a plaque or statue in support of indigenous peoples as an alternative to removing the Columbus statue.

Trujillo thinks it is a public emergency and wants Gradisar to remove it through his executive powers.

“We reject the mayor’s assertion that he somehow has to go through city council to remove that statue,” she said, “He has said publicly that he has the power to remove it in an emergency. And we believe this is an emergency.”

BreeAnna Guerra Rodriguez, an organizer of the Columbus statue protest, believes that, contrary to the mayor’s statement and inaction, the removal of the statue will help the indigenous community of Pueblo.

“If people care enough to actually research the science behind intergenerational trauma, the removal of the statue into a museum is actually a step towards healing trauma for black and indigenous people of color,” said Rodriguez.

She added that the indigenous community in Pueblo is not asking for the statue to be removed entirely, only relocated to a museum.

“We are simply asking for this to be out of public view and into a private setting, such as the museum,” she said. “We don’t want to destroy it, we respect the fact that it is art. But at the same time, this is a man who has been found guilty of crimes against humanity.”

Severino Martinez, another Columbus statue protest organizer, said that he also believes the statue’s removal would start to heal the wounds of Pueblo’s indigenous community.

“Having it up is hurting us. Like I said, we pass this street and I look at this statue. My ancestors used to be on crosses 528 years ago. So every time I pass by, I see my ancesters on crosses,” he said. “And the mayor doesn’t get that because he’s not indigenous. He needs to understand our pain and what it will do to help us, heal us, as a community.”

This is not a discussion unique to Pueblo, said Martinez.

“In the United States in general all these statues are coming down, and it’s all the people standing together in all these cities, all these towns. And Pueblo isn’t different,” he said.

The removal of statues is being debated across the United States. In Boston, MA, a Columbus statue was beheaded last month before being removed by local officials until further notice. In Richmond, VA, a Columbus statue was vandalized and thrown into a lake.

In New Mexico, protestors toppled a statue of Juan de Oñate, the colonial governor of Nuevo Mexico, over the Acoma Massacre which killed over 500 Acoma Puebloans in 1599.

Protesters in Denver removed a statue of Kit Carson, from the Pioneer Monument Fountain because of his involvement in the removal and violence towards the Navajo.

The story was updated to include “For The People” and other groups help to organize the protests through social media.

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