Mexico City swapping Columbus statue with one of Indigenous woman
The Columbus statue was a frequent target of protesters denouncing European suppression of Mexico’s Indigenous civilisations.
A statue of Christopher Columbus that was a prominent presence on Mexico City’s most iconic boulevard will be replaced by a statue honouring Indigenous women, the city’s mayor has announced.
The 19th-century bronze statue on the Paseo de la Reforma had been taken down last year for restoration work ahead of an annual demonstration.
The new monument aims to deliver “social justice” for the historic role of women in Mexico, particularly Indigenous women, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said at an event in the Mexican capital on Sunday marking International Day of the Indigenous Woman.
“To them, we owe … the history of our country, of our fatherland,” she said.
The move comes amid a global push to take down statues and monuments to historical figures involved in colonialism and other abuses, including slavery. In recent years, such monuments have been toppled by protesters or removed by local authorities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, among other places.
Several statues of Columbus, the Italian navigator whose Spanish-funded expeditions from the 1490s onward opened the way for the European conquest of the Americas, have been removed from US cities.
Mexico City’s Columbus statue, donated to the city many years ago, was a significant reference point on the 10-lane boulevard along which it sits, and the surrounding traffic circle is – so far – named for it.
That made it a favourite target of spray-paint-wielding protesters denouncing the European suppression of Mexico’s Indigenous civilisations.
It was removed last year for restoration shortly before October 12, which Americans know as Columbus Day but Mexicans call “Dia de la Raza” – “Day of the Race” – the anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492.
At the time, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador noted that “it is a date that is very controversial and lends itself to conflicting ideas and political conflicts.”
This year is the 700th anniversary of the founding of Tenochtitlan – what is now Mexico City – as well as the 500th anniversary of its fall to the Spanish conquistadores and the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s final independence from Spain.
Most Mexicans have some Indigenous ancestry. Millions of Indigenous people died from violence and disease during and after the conquest.
Sheinbaum said the new statue, dubbed “Tlali”, might be ready near this year’s Dia de la Raza.
“Of course we recognise Columbus,” the mayor, who referred to Columbus as “a great international personage”, said during Sunday’s event announcing the change.
“But there are two visions,” she said, adding that one of these was the European vision of the “discovery of America”, even though civilisations had existed for centuries in Mexico.
“And there’s another vision from here, that in reality a European arrived in America, who made an encounter between two places, and then came the [Spanish] conquest,” she said.
The Columbus statue will be moved to a less prominent location in a small park in the city’s Polanco neighbourhood.
Sheinbaum is a close ally of Lopez Obrador, who has sought to cast his government as a defender of the poor as well as Indigenous communities, many of whom are among the country’s least well-off.