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Italian American group calls for repair, return of decapitated Columbus statue

People mingled around the base that held the Christopher Columbus statue in a park in Boston's North End.
People mingled around the base that held the Christopher Columbus statue in a park in Boston's North End.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

An Italian-American group is calling for the city to repair a statue of Christopher Columbus, which was decapitated last week, and return it to the North End park where it has stood since 1979.

“It’s very difficult to separate Columbus from the Italian-Americans,” said Frank Mazzaglia, a spokesman for the Italian American Alliance. “Thanks to Columbus, millions of people have found economic opportunity in this country. ... He was really the first immigrant here. He was also the first missionary.“

A spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Sunday that the statue’s fate is still undecided but did not respond to questions about whether the mayor would meet with the alliance.

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Statues of Columbus have come down in other cities as people grapple with his legacy of violence toward native people. Protesters tore down a bronze statue in Saint Paul and another in Richmond.

Opponents of the statue, which is 6 feet tall and made of Carrara marble, have made their views known before. The statue was splashed with red paint and spray-painted with the word “murderer” in 2004, decapitated in 2006, and marked with the phrase “Black lives matter” in 2015.

After a passerby called police Wednesday to report the statue was missing its head, Walsh said that he did not support vandalism but that city officials would reconsider whether to put the Columbus statue back where it was.

“Given the conversations that we’re having right now in our city and throughout the country, we’re also going to take time to assess the historic meaning of the statue,” Walsh said Wednesday.

A group of indigenous people who gathered at the park Wednesday asked the city to permanently remove the Columbus statue from it.

Mahtowin Munro, a lead organizer at IndigenousPeoplesDayMA.org, said Wednesday that she sees the park as a beautiful place, but one “where indigenous, Black, and people of color are not welcome.”

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“Because it’s a park dedicated to white supremacy; it’s a park dedicated to indigenous genocide,” she said. “The messaging is clear with the statue here that this is an area where white people are welcome, but where our people are not welcome.”

Though a Sunday afternoon rally in support of returning the statue was canceled, a small group of its supporters, including Mazzaglia, gathered at the 5-foot pedestal that held the statue, sitting and talking to one another.

Mazzaglia said he objected to use of the word “genocide” to describe the mass deaths of indigenous people — some by disease, although others in violence — after European colonizers came to North America.

“Genocide is not a clash of microbes,” he said. “Genocide is what the Turkish did to the Armenians; it’s what the Nazis did to the Jews.”


Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com or at 617-929-2043.