CLEVELAND (WJW) — A tribute to Christopher Columbus that stands in Tony Brush Park has been part of the Little Italy community since 1988.
“These statues were built and paid for by the immigrants and they stand in tribute to our community’s fight to overcome hatred and prejudice,” said Basil Russo, President of Italian Sons & Daughters of America and organizer of the Cleveland’s annual Columbus Day Parade.
Now, a petition on Change.org is calling for its removal saying the explorer is “not someone to celebrate,” labeling him “a racist monster who initiated the genocide of indigenous Americans.”
The petition looks to replace Columbus with Ettore “Hector” Boiardi, more widely known as Chef Boyardee.
“It’s time for Cleveland to tear down its statue to a genocidal sociopath with a bowl cut and erect a statue to an immigrant success story who enriched our community with his food and iconic mustache,” the petition reads.
“It’s insulting and degrading to the Italian-American community for any other group to come forward and try and erase our history and our heritage by dictating to us who our heroes should be,” said Russo.
The petition directed to Cleveland City Council and Mayor Frank Jackson asked for a thousand signatures and comes as other cities and institutions discuss the removal of similar statues.
In Columbus, Mayor Andrew Ginther announced last week the statue of the Italian explorer and slave trader at city hall would be placed into storage.
After being vandalized, Columbus State Community College also removed its Columbus statue.
“Cleveland is an older city, it’s a legacy city so when you have cities like Columbus, they probably have to approach it differently than Cleveland does,” said Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin.
“I don’t think anyone should try to bring harm to the Little Italy community and break anything or harm anything,” said Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones.
In other cities, protesters have damaged and even toppled statues of Columbus.
In 2019, Jones proposed replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day.
“My intentions was to never disrespect the heritage, the beautiful heritage of Italian Americans and what they’ve done for our country,” he said. “I’m happy to see that the conversation we had a year ago in the City of Cleveland has now resurfaced and people are serious about removing this individual who is a reminder of hate and a reminder of slavery.”
Still, he and Griffin believe the decision ultimately lies with the Italian-American community.
“People need to listen to the Italian-American community just as much as they have their own personal feelings about Columbus,” he said.
As for the suggestion of Chef Boyardee as a replacement:
“To talk about Chef Boyardee in the same discussion as Christopher Columbus is absurd, it just shows you that people who are making that suggestion aren’t sincere, aren’t serious and don’t want to discuss the matter intelligently,” said Russo.
Boyardee immigrated from Italy in 1914 and opened his first restaurant in Cleveland, Giardino d’ Italia.
The sauces were so popular many customers asked to take them home, so Boiardi would put marinara in milk bottles. That evolved into his prepared meal company and the canned pasta empire we know today. He died at his home in Parma at the age of 87.
A statue of the chef currently stands at Conagra Food Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska.
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