Chicago's Italian American community fights for Columbus Day, return of statues

Columbus Day in Chicago will look different this year as the fight for the return of the Columbus statues weighs heavy on the Italian American community.

One of the Columbus statues removed this summer sat at Arrigo Park. It was relocated because of violent protests, but not destroyed. Italian Americans say enough is enough and to put the statues back.

On the day before Columbus Day, pictures of successful Italian Americans decorated Arrigo Park, instead of the famous statue. Despite the Columbus criticisms, some Italian Americans aren't ready to give up on him.

“They see one thing, we see another thing and it’s very unfortunate, so I say I’m sorry," said Sergio Giangrande with the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans.

Clashes at Grant Park in July resulted in a number of injuries and arrests.

“Whatever the history is, whatever the facts, all we ask is to be respected like any other ethnic group," said Ron Onesti with the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans.

Protesters call Columbus a slave owner who doesn't deserve generations of respect.

“There are processes in place to challenge the historic facts, to redefine or re-envision history, we welcome the debate, just allow us at the table. A debate requires two sides. Right now it’s a one sided debate," said Onesti.

On July 24th as the city slept, Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered crews to pull down the city's Columbus statues.

“They belong to the Italian American community. There’s no reason they should’ve been brought down to begin with," said Giangrande.

On Friday, the Italian American community presented Mayor Lightfoot with a letter requesting the statues be put back.

“She specifically said in her statement that it was temporary. So we want to know when temporary ends," said Giangrande.

Chicago Public Schools this year replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day on the school calendar. State Representative LaShawn Ford thinks history classes have unfairly communicated some of the facts.

“My message to my brothers and my sisters of the Italian race is we must get together to get the story right about Christopher Columbus," said Ford.

Chicago will have no Columbus Day parade. Permits for such large gatherings have been denied because of COVID-19, but the Italian heritage isn't forgotten. Red, white and green is up downtown and there will be a socially distanced rally on Monday at Arrigo Park with a car parade, luncheon and mass.

“It’s the one day a year that we all come together to celebrate all things Italian. It’s not just Columbus. It’s not just about Columbus. It’s bigger than that," said Onesti.

Monday's rally begins at 10 a.m. in Arrigo Park.