People attend Columbus Day parade on Manhartan's Fifth Avenue in New York, the United States, Oct. 9, 2017. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)
By Xinhua writers Yang Shilong, Li Ming
NEW YORK, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) -- Gloomy overcast skies and showers on Monday could not stop thousands of people, mostly Italian-Americans, to march up the iconic Fifth Avenue of New York City to celebrate Columbus Day, which marks the landing of the Italian-born explorer Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean in 1492.
Columbus Day, which became a federal holiday in the United States in 1937, comes this year amid a heated debate over statues dedicated to controversial historical figures in the wake of the violence sparked by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August over the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
The New York Police Department began providing 24/7 body-guard services ahead of the holiday in hopes of preventing any more vandalism. A pair of Columbus statues in the Big Apple were recently vandalized, including one in Central Park, where a vandal daubed red paint on its hands and scrawled "Hate will not be tolerated" on its pedestal.
"We should not hero worship murderers. Columbus was a murderer. He was a racist. He was a colonizer and enslaved African people," Charles Barron, assembly member, representing 16th Assembly District of the New York State, told a gathering on Monday at the marble statue of Columbus in Columbus Circle at the southwest corner of Central Park.
Barron said he was there to introduce a bill in the state assembly to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day, following suit of more than 50 U.S. cities, along with a few universities, counties and states.
"We should tell the truth about American history, tell our children the true, stop feeding our children lies," the lawmaker said. "Christopher Columbus not only did not discover America. Many historians said he never set foot on American soil, and if he did, people were here already. You can't discover a place where people already exist."
Barron's words was echoed by Tyrik Washington, Co-chair of Operation Power, a local organization in New York.
"We are here in solidarity support. I am also here as a father that says "We don't glorify murderers, we don' t glorify rapist, we don't glorify people who steal land," Washington told Xinhua.
"I can't look to my son and say, here's Columbus Day you should be off from school. Here is the respectful and indigenous people that sacrifices so much that is paying the price even now everyday by living in reservation camps," he added.
However, many Italian Americans were outraged by the on-going movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day.
"They are stupid for being against Columbus, he didn't mean to come here and kill Indians, that's absurd (of what they are doing), " Christina, 73, an Italian decedent from Argentina, told Xinhua.
"Columbus Day is a celebration of Columbus and the Italian community here, its kind of become a political issue, I am so sad that they want to darken this celebration and Columbus'figure," she said. "It is so unfair for the Italian American community, I am against it."
Mark Gunble, 61, who has retired from postal services, also slammed the attacks on Columbus.
"I just want to say that you can not just picking someone, you could say the Dutch were here, they were involved in the slave trade, the English came," Gunble said. "Let's be honest, they utilize and took resources. The French, what they did with the Indians. Who do you want to blame? We could blame more. They all made mistakes."
"So to pick someone out like that, to say 'He's the guy' that doesn't solve any problems. I think it just exacerbates problems, just fuels the fire to give people who were wanted demonstrate a reason to demonstrate," he said. "What it is (actually is) that certain people, certain organizations have an agenda, either personally or politically or financially and they get people picking sides."
"It is a mistake for people to play the 'identity' card. Tearing down things others see as important is divisive. But 'white' people really have a very narrow and arrogant view of what 'America' means, " Michael C. Munger, Director of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program, department of Political Science at Duke University, told Xinhua via email on Monday.
Since the deadly events of Charlottesville, calls to remove or destroy Confederate statues and other controversial historical figures in the U.S. have only gotten louder. In August, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would be forming a committee to consider the future of the Columbus's statue and others similar to it.
Some experts have expressed concern over the removal of these historical monuments.
"When a nation tears down its statues, it's toppling more than brass and marble. It is in a way toppling itself. When you tear down statues, you tear down avenues of communication, between generations," wrote Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal following the Charlottesville violence in August.
In a related development, two Columbus statues were vandalized in the U.S. state of Connecticut over the weekend, according to local new reports.
The two statues were painted in red in Middletown and New Havel, and have since been cleaned up, and local police said they will step patrol around the statues.
On Columbus day Monday, protests are expected in Southington, Connecticut, as advocate groups said the festival celebrated the pain European colonialists inflicted on indigenous people in America.
"We will have a peaceful, silent protest," advocate Erica Byrne of Southington said.
Under a facebook post of the town announcing a ceremony celebrating Columbus day, most of the 150 comments opposed to any public honor of Columbus.
While in Chicago, the city directed its big trucks to block the major intersections along the State Street, a populous shopping street in downtown Chicago, as a safety precaution for the Columbus Day Parade held Monday.
The parade, consisting of more than 150 bands, floats and other marching units, marks its 65th anniversary in Chicago.
Italian related organizations have made up nearly half of the marching units: the Italian American Club, Chicago Italian American Charitable Organization, and Italian restaurants in Chicago. (Xinhua reporters Liu Yang in Washington D.C. and Xu Jing in Chicago also contribute to the story)