CHICAGO — Hundreds of people gathered at a park in Little Italy on Sunday afternoon to demand that the three Christopher Columbus statues that were removed last summer be put back.
During the rally at Arrigo Park, Italian American leaders called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to return the statue that was removed from the park one year ago. A second statue was removed from Grant Park the same night, and a third statue of Columbus was later removed from the South Chicago neighborhood.
Lightfoot ordered the Columbus statue in Grant Park torn down in the dark of night, saying it was a temporary safety precaution aimed at preventing more clashes between Chicago police and protesters. The mayor then followed her decision to remove the three statues by creating a review process for controversial city monuments that she said would be part of “a racial healing and historical reckoning project.”
On Sunday, Ron Onesti, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, told the crowd the rally was a “call to action.”
“We are here to tell the mayor of the city of Chicago, we want the Columbus statues back,” he said.
Onesti wore a gray T-shirt with an image of Columbus that said, “Christopher Columbus, the first Italian American.”
Onesti thanked police several times for protecting property during the 2020 summer unrest in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He also talked about Marco DiFranco, an Italian American officer who died of COVID-19 complications last summer. Onesti presented John Catanzara, president of the Chicago FOP, with a Marco DiFranco Hero Award, in honor of the group of officers who guarded the Columbus statue at Grant Park on July 17, 2020, when demonstrators tried to remove it.
Catanzara told the crowd they could have prevented the Arrigo Park Columbus statue’s removal had they shown up in protest the day it got taken down. He said Italian Americans need to speak their mind and stand up for what they believe so they can be heard.
“We are not going to be subjected to this cancel culture one more damn day,” he said.
People at the rally at Arrigo Park, many of them Italian American, held Italian flags or wore T-shirts and hats with the Italian flag.
“Bring them back! Bring them back!” they chanted throughout the event.
Justin Diamond stood behind the main crowd, a White Claw hard seltzer drink in hand. He wore a sleeveless shirt with an Italian flag, the words “Italian Muscle” around it and a baseball cap that said, “Proud to be Italian.” Diamond said it’s insulting to have the Columbus statues removed, and that it’s dangerous to simply take down statues.
He said people have more in common than they do differences, and they should come together to focus on the positive.
He believes the Arrigo Park statue will come back and said if other groups want to honor someone different, they can put up statues for those people in their own communities. To Diamond, Columbus was someone who united the East and West. Columbus wasn’t “a saint,” Diamond said, but neither were most of the Founding Fathers and other historical figures in the United States.
“It changed everything, literally the entire world, and that’s significant,” he said of Columbus coming to America. “Any one person that can do that should be honored, despite their faults at the time that they lived.”
About a dozen counterprotesters gathered across the street from the park. As people left the rally, many stopped to yell at the counterprotesters.
In recent years, even before Floyd’s death, activists have started calling for the removal of statues and monuments that celebrate Columbus, Confederate leaders and other historical figures who oppressed or enslaved groups of people.
48 Olympic athletes with Illinois ties
Aisha Praught-Leer, Jamaica: 1,500-meter run
Alyssa Naeher, United States, soccer
Andrea Filler, Italy, soccer
Casey Krueger, United States, soccer
Darryl Sullivan, United States: High jump
David Kendziera, United States: 400-meter hurdles
David Robertson, United States, baseball
DeAnna Price, United States: Hammer
Eddy Alvarez, United States, baseball
Edwin Jackson, United States, baseball
Eliza Stone, United States: Saber
Evita Griskenas, United States, rhythmic gymnastics
Felicia Stancil, United States: BMX racing
Gwen Berry, United States: Hammer
Jewell Loyd, United States, women’s basketball team
Jordan Wilimovsky, United States: 10-kilometer
Jordyn Poulter, United States, volleyball
Josh Zeid, Israel, baseball
Julie Ertz, United States, soccer
Kelsey Card, United States: Discus
Kelsey Robinson, United States, volleyball
Kent Farrington, United States: Show jumping
Kevin McDowell, United States
Laura Zeng, United States, rhythmic gymnastics
Lauren Doyle, United States, rugby
Maggie Shea, United States, sailing
Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, United States, volleyball
Mitch Glasser, Israel, baseball
Nefeli Papadakis, United States, judo
North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics team, United States: Rhythmic gymnastics team competition
Pedrya Seymour, Bahamas: 100-meter hurdles
Rajeev Ram, United States: Men’s doubles
Raven Saunders, United States: Shot put
Ryan Murphy, United States: 100- and 200-meter backstroke
Sandi Morris, United States: Pole vault
Thomas Detry, Belgium, golf
Thomas Jaeschke, United States, volleyball
Thomas Pieters, Belgium, golf
Tierna Davidson, United States, soccer
Tim Federowicz, United States, baseball
Tim Nedow, Canada: Shot put
Tomáš Satoranský, Czech Republic, men’s basketball team
Tori Franklin, United States: Triple jump
Tyson Bull, Australia: Horizontal bar
Zach LaVine, United States, men’s basketball team
Zach Ziemek, United States: Decathlon
Olivia Smoliga, United States: 400-meter freestyle relay
Sunday, the community held a "siyum Torah" or a completion of the Torah ceremony where the last lines were ceremoniously filled in by a rabbi and then carried under a "chuppah," or marriage canopy in a parade to the synagogue.
Christian County undersheriff Howard Buffett, the son of billionaire business magnate Warren Buffett, is credited with saving a life while on a humanitarian trip to the U.S./Mexico border earlier this month.