On May 23, the Chula Vista City Council voted 4 to 1 to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus and rename the eponymous holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day. The demand for the removal started in 2019 after pressure from local organizations such as Kanap Kuahan (“Tell The Truth”) Coalition, an Indigenous group composed of Kumeyaay and non-Kumeyaay activists, leaders and organizations.
A vote was scheduled for January 2020 before the pandemic, following a recommendation from the Chula Vista Human Relations commission. But Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas postponed the vote, saying she wanted to hear from the community in person. On June 12, 2020, the statue was quietly removed overnight, after it had been covered in red paint amid the global uprising against racism that included demands to remove racist monuments throughout the country. A press conference by Kanap Kuahan Coalition, Unión del Barrio, and other organizations was held the next day, promising to continue the struggle.
An advisory committee was formed to handle the issue. It was composed of the Chula Vista Human Relations commission, Parks & Rec, members of the Kumeyaay community, the Italian American community and a Public History and Monuments scholar. Before the public was allowed to speak on the matter, the committee made a presentation, where Kumeyaay community members and a restorative justice educator spoke about the historical purpose of statues and what Columbus represents to Indigenous people. Among the speakers was Elena Izcalli Tlauixochitl Medina, a 17-year-old Indigenous student, who said that having a statue of a genocidal figure in the park where she grew up playing with her family and friends made her feel she wasn’t welcome in a land that was stolen from her people.
A rally was organized outside City Hall led by Kanap Kuahan Coalition, where members of Indigenous groups performed traditional dances and chants. A majority of the people who showed up to the meeting were in favor of removing the statue and renaming the park.
Grace Sardina, Vice President of the San Diego Sons and Daughters of Italy surprised everyone by speaking in favor of removing it. The representative said that Columbus as a symbol of Italian pride in the United States had served its purpose at a time when Italians faced lynching, but that it was now time to replace it.
“This one man does not symbolize or represent our people, and all that we have worked so hard to achieve.”
One of the people who walked up to the microphone to voice an opinion was Forest Smith, an anthropologist and member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation – San Diego. He called on the Chula Vista City Council to “communicate an understanding of the many concerns raised here in the past and tonight” by removing the statue and renaming the park.
At the end of the meeting the council voted 4 to 1 in favor of removing the statue, renaming the park, renaming Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day and forming a task force to decide what to do with the statue and how else to proceed.
Featured image: The scene outside the City Hall during the pre-meeting rally. Credit: Marcos Perez