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Clash over Columbus boils over after statue in Little Italy joins wave of monuments targeted by protesters
Two prominent monuments to Christopher Columbus in Grant Park and on the Near West Side were hit with graffiti over the weekend, joining a number of tributes to the Italian explorer targeted by protesters around the country in recent weeks.
After the statue in Arrigo Park in Little Italy was splattered with balloons filled with blue and pink paint Friday night, some residents stood guard at the statue over the weekend, according to videos posted to social media and several residents who asked not to be named.
“Some people in this neighborhood think it’s a statue of Jesus,” one longtime neighborhood resident said. “We have people guarding this statue with golf clubs — or worse. We don’t need that.”
She said the neighborhood, long home to many Italian immigrants and their families but also to an increasingly diverse population, “really is divided. A lot of people believe [Columbus] is a great guy who discovered America. And others say he helped kill a race of people.”
“Honestly, I don’t think they know the history and I think they are just reacting stupidly,” said another woman, a 31-year resident of the area, who says she guarded the statue with dozens of others. She worries that people who want to see the statue come down may try to forcefully remove it.
Despite being defaced in some way nearly every year, the damage done to the statue in Little Italy this week has struck a particular nerve as heated debates swirl in the community over whether the monument should stay or go.
Resident Antonio Musillami, 41, whose relatives have lived in the neighborhood since the 1920s, thinks the statue should be removed and replaced with a more positive figure. Some have suggested the statue be replaced with one honoring Mother Cabrini, who founded the now-shuttered nearby hospital, or Florence Scala, who fought to save the neighborhood before the University of Illinois opened its Chicago campus.
“It’s a moment in American history right now when people in America are reevaluating historical figures and I don’t think people in the neighborhood can ignore that,” Musillami said.
Joseph Esposito, who heads up the Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association, said the statue is a source of pride: it appears in many families’ photos dating back generations.
“We as Italian Americans, we don’t bother anybody, we don’t tell other groups who to celebrate and who not to. ... Unless you would like to celebrate Columbus with us — and I mean this with all due respect — mind your business. If you don’t like him, don’t celebrate him,” Esposito said.
Heather Miller, executive director of the American Indian Center, which is based on the North Side, strongly disagrees: “He’s a signal of the beginning of genocide,” Miller said. “We know his actions when he did arrive to this land were the basis to chattel slavery and are a huge factor in the creation of America as we know it today.”
More news you need
- Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said he has tested positive for COVID-19, and said his symptoms are mild. Raoul began experiencing minor symptoms over the weekend before testing positive yesterday.
- New criminal charges related to the bribery case against former state Rep. Luis Arroyo are expected “in the near future,” lawyers told a federal judge today. The report offers no hint at who might be charged — or what accusations might be made.
- The Illinois Republican Party has filed a lawsuit against Gov. J.B. Pritzker in federal court over its constitutional rights to assemble during the pandemic. The suit claims that while religious groups and protesters have been allowed to gather in groups of more than 10, political groups haven’t.
- Evanston businessman Rahul Shah, 51, has become the first person to face fraud charges in Chicago’s federal court related to the coronavirus. A criminal complaint accusing Shah of bank fraud and making false statements to a financial institution became public today.
- Illinois officials have declared Juneteenth — which commemorates the June 19, 1865, emancipation of enslaved people in Texas — as Black Census Day. Friday’s event highlights the count’s potential impact in addressing racial inequities through funding for disadvantaged communities.
- All Chicago residents can now get tested for coronavirus at the city’s six testing sites as part of an expansion in eligibility announced Tuesday. Free testing is offered at those sites from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
- Citing the “link between respiratory issues and COVID-19,” Ald. Matt O’Shea wants Chicago to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products used to lure young people into a lifetime of addiction. He plans to introduce the ban at tomorrow’s City Council meeting.
A bright one
About 20 Chicago-area artists have collaborated on a project to beautify a broad swath of plywood covering a South Loop movie theater complex.
Beth Swanson, an artist who worked with the property manager at Showplace ICON Theatre to dream up the project, said they wanted to share uplifting, positive messages: “We believe the [Black Lives Matter] movement is necessary and good, and we wanted to beautify the movement.”
Britni Mara, 28, of Humboldt Park, chose to paint the Black Lives Matter fist. She said she made a conscious choice to “stay away from skin tone because I don’t think it matters.”
“The unity behind everyone coming together right now is what’s important,” Mara said, choosing instead a palette of turquoise, teal, pink, gold and purple.
Christine Pace, 30, a Chicago Public Schools art teacher, painted an “anatomical” heart, along with a quotation from African American writer bell hooks: “Love is an action, never simply a feeling.”
“A lot of times, my work centers around teaching students to stand up for what’s right and to … inspire others to be better versions of themselves,” Pace said. “So I feel like because I’m trying to teach kids that, I should model that myself. That was a big motivation for me coming out today.”
From the press box
Chicago boxer Joshua Greer Jr., WBO’s top-ranked bantamweight, faces his biggest test yet Tuesday night against Mike Plania in Las Vegas. The fight, which won’t take place in front of fans, highlights a card that starts at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
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Yesterday, we asked you how you’re celebrating the graduates in your life this year. Here’s what some of you said…
“Our son graduated from NIU and we decided on a family dinner, restaurant of his choice, and we are paying for his trip to Las Vegas.” — Amanda S. Curry
“Well, no one really thought about our wonderful 8th graders, so I decided to order a party bus for her and her friends’ diploma pick up, and afterwards I plan to take everyone, including families, to this amazing garden to play music, eat and take pictures.” — Joseph Williams
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