Mexico City has announced that the statue of Christopher Columbus that presided over the central Paseo de la Reforma will be moved to Parque América, in the Miguel Hidalgo mayor’s office. In its place, they are going to place a monument that pays tribute and recognition to the women of indigenous peoples, as the mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, has pointed out.
Indigenous people demand a reckoning with colonial history throughout the Americas
The figure was removed from the pedestal days before last October 12, to avoid new vandalizations against the image because a demonstration had been called in the square under the slogan “we are going to tear it down.” The official reason given for the controversial removal of the symbol was the restoration of the piece inaugurated in 1875 and carried out by the French sculptor Charles Cordier (1827-1905), copying the sketches of the original sculptor of the project, the Catalan Manuel Vilar.
Colón will be replaced in the next few days by “Tlali”, which is currently being produced in his workshop by the Mexican sculptor Pedro Reyes and which will measure 6.5 meters in height. Tlali means “land” in Nahuatl and the artist explains that the land is a female image, because, Reyes says, we all come and return to it. “The earth is not only our past, in the 21st century our survival depends on the care we take for it. If someone can teach how this planet is cared for, it is the native peoples, it is what we must see again.”
The mayor has said that there are two versions of the arrival of the Spanish in America in the 15th century: the European one, which describes it as a “discovery” that freed the Aztec empire from the bloody regime in which they lived. And the Mexican, he said, according to which the Spanish committed a genocide in Tenochtitlan. “The vindication of indigenous women and what they represent in our history is also social justice, it is recognition of native peoples and what women represent, it is the best tribute we can do to women today on International Women’s Day Natives”.
A symbol questioned for years
This monument was commissioned to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival in America, in 1892. The same reason that started the statues dedicated to Columbus in Barcelona and Madrid. This symbolic blow in the nerve center of Mexico and on a sculpture that has been the target of criticism for more than three decades is a change of criteria in the vindication of contemporary national symbols.
The first attempt to demolish this statue occurred on a symbolic high-voltage date: October 12, 1992, the Fifth Centennial of the Discovery of America. That day, the symbol of the “first modern man”, of science, that discovers and civilizes, that implants the hegemonic story, did not pass away. The protesters settled for smearing it. Some 25,000 people left for the Zócalo from various parts of the city. Once at the meeting place, at the foot of the statue, several people climbed up the bronze figure and placed a banner tied around its neck that read: “Fifth centenary of the indigenous massacre.” They sprayed the symbol with red and yellow paint, spat at it, and yelled, “We don’t want Columbus, not even in the pantheon!” While, in Europe, an iconoclastic fury devastated the statues of Lenin without regard, in Mexico the neighbors of the country’s capital did not dare so much.
In 1994, with the uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in march, a crowd protested again on October 12 in the Plaza Reforma, in Mexico City. This time, they wrapped the ropes around the bronze and tied them to a Route 100 city bus to knock it down. The police avoided him at the last minute.
Since then, every October 12, Colon was protected by a battalion of security forces to prevent the protesters from removing “the evidence of the persistence of colonialism” in the country. In 2007, the effigy was covered with an orange plastic to protect it from the rain of paint.
The monument was inaugurated in 1875 but the project had been initiated by the second and last emperor of Mexico, Maximiliano I of Habsburg, who was overthrown in 1867 by President Benito Juárez, responsible for the establishment of the Republic. Ten years later, Antonio Escandón (a banker and one of the entrepreneurs of the Veracruz-Mexico railway) was in charge of retaking the project and financing the 14-meter monument of Colón. The idea of the tribute came to the millionaire’s nephew, Alejandro Arango y Escandón, a conservative politician and intellectual, trained in Madrid and a member of the Royal Spanish Academy and the Royal Academy of History.
The sculpture is neoclassical and at the foot of the pedestal there were four seated friars (Pedro de Gante, Bartolomé de las Casas, Juan Pérez de Marchena and Diego de Deza). At the base, the sculptor carved scenes of the landing of the evangelizing admiral of America, who, in addition to being supported by the four clergymen, raises his arm and looks at the sky, in clear homage to Catholicism. Now, Mexico has taken a step forward to end public tributes.