Wednesday night in the Minnesota capital of St. Paul, protestors demolished their city’s Christopher Columbus statue. In destroying the statue, which had nothing to do with the tragic death of George Floyd, rioters also destroyed immigrant art, Italian-American history, and a symbol of American unity.
Protesters across the nation have been defacing public statues that they deem a symbol of racial injustice, vandalizing statues of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in cities ranging from Boston to Houston in their pursuit.
NEW: Protesters yank down Christopher Columbus statue outside Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. https://t.co/uL6qM3U0jO pic.twitter.com/g2gEiUllg5
— ABC News (@ABC) June 10, 2020
The St. Paul statue, however, represents more than just Columbus’ discoveries. The statue’s artist was Italian-American immigrant Carlo Brioschi who created a number of sculptures for cities across America. He sculpted the Columbus statue, originally conceived in 1927 by the Italian Progressive Club of Duluth, as a gift from Italian-Americans in Minneapolis to the city, dedicated by a crowd of onlookers and a brass band in 1931.
Brioschi himself was a famous Italian-American sculptor in the Twin Cities area. He received his training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, Italy before bringing his talents to the U.S. He opened Brioschi-Minuti, an ornamental plaster and sculpture showroom, with fellow Italian-American immigrant Adolphi Minuti.
Brioschi’s work through his firm left a lasting legacy in major cities, beginning with the firm’s inception in New York. His work involved working on Grand Central Station in New York City, the Christopher Columbus statue in downtown Chicago, and multiple universities.
He and Minuti brought their legacy to Minnesota when their firm moved to St. Paul in 1909. From there, Brioschi was able to work on the University of Minnesota’s Northrup Auditorium, the Hotel St. Paul, and the Christopher Columbus statue that survived nearly a century before being torn down.
Calls for the statue’s removal began in recent years with the growing controversy around honoring controversial historical figures. On Indigenous People’s Day in 2018, Minneapolis writers Peter and Mattie Harper published an article titled, “Minnesota, we need to talk about our Columbus monument.”
“For the state officials present, the memorial represented a symbolic acceptance of Italian immigrants as Americans,” they wrote.
They discounted the immigrants’ efforts, however, as a disgusting attempt to be “viewed as ‘white.’” Through their assimilation and celebration of American togetherness, they alleged the monument stomped on Native American history.
“By proclaiming Columbus the ‘first American’ and making no mention of Indigenous people, either nationally or locally, the memorial association perpetuated the myth of Indians as ‘savages,’” they wrote. “In fact, Native American history was deliberately erased and the violent histories of colonialism and genocide perpetrated by Columbus were not acknowledged.”
Now protesters have had the final word. They succeeded in the effort to destroy a monument that stood as a symbol of embracing American immigrants.