On Sunday September 7th, the mayor of Mexico City declared that a sculpture portraying Christopher Columbus will be replaced by a statue giving tribute to Indigenous women. The statue of Columbus has long been a major feature on the city’s most renowned boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma. However, last year the statue from the 19th century was removed for maintenance work in advance of a yearly protest that questions statues dedicated toward the praise of historical figures who contributed to colonialism and imperialism. Furthermore, the new monument intends to provide “social justice” for the historic role of women in Mexico, especially Indigenous women, according to Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum.
The action was implemented amid a worldwide campaign to remove statues and monuments commemorating historical leaders who were complicit in colonialism and other forms of oppression. In the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, among other places, such monuments have been overthrown by demonstrators or dismantled by municipal authorities in recent years. A significant number of sculptures depicting Christopher Columbus, the Italian navigator whose Spanish-funded missions in the 1490s gave way to Europe’s colonialism of the Americas, have been removed from locations around the United States.
The Columbus statue in Mexico City, which was presented to the city many years ago, was an important site on Paseo de la Reforma. The surrounding traffic circle is named after it, for the time being. As a result, spray-paint-wielding protesters condemning the European destruction of Mexico’s Indigenous civilizations made it a favourite target. It was taken away last year for reparations a few days before Columbus Day, which is celebrated on October 12th in the United States but is known in Mexico as “Dia de la Raza” or “Day of the Race,” the anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Americas in 1492.
This year marks the 700th anniversary of Tenochtitlan’s establishment, the 500th anniversary of its conquest by the Spanish conquistadores, and the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s definitive independence from Spain. The majority of Mexicans are descended from Indigenous peoples. During and after the invasion, millions of Indigenous people died as a result of violence and disease. Sheinbaum foresaw that “Tlali,” the new statue, would be ready in time for Dia de la Raza this year.
“Of course, we recognize Columbus,” the mayor stated at a press conference announcing the change on Sunday, referring to Columbus as a “great international personage.” However, “there are two visions,” she explained, one of which was the European idea of the “discovery of America,” despite the fact that civilizations had been in Mexico for ages. “And there’s another vision from here, that in reality a European arrived in America, made an encounter between two places, and then the [Spanish] conquest,” she explained.
Sheinbaum is a close supporter of leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has worked to portray his government as a champion of the poor and Indigenous peoples, many of whom are among the poorest in the country.
According to the mayor, sculptor Pedro Reyes is currently working on a statue of a woman from the Olmec civilization, which flourished in the Gulf of Mexico from 1200 BC to 400 BC. This new statue is to replace the figure of Columbus on Paseo de la Reforma. The Columbus statue will be relocated to a smaller park in the city’s Polanco neighbourhood, where it will be less visible.
There have been disagreements within the country on whether to keep the statue of Columbus at all. Several activists in Mexico have demanded the statue to be destroyed as it misrepresents the history of colonialism by neglecting the violent accounts of oppression faced by the Indigenous society.
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