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Discovering Columbus

Discovering Columbus

“The statue of Christopher Columbus that rests in front of the county courthouse was spray painted late Tuesday night. The county courthouse is at 315 West Main in downtown Walla Walla. The words "Stolen Land" and "Genocide" were found in black spray paint this morning on the statue. The Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident because the statue is on county property.” (KEPR News, July 1, 2020; )

“In the forefront of a city building is a statue of a man that symbolizes nothing but atrocities. Apart from not even actually “discovering America,” Christopher Columbus was a man who brought turmoil to natives. Before heading to court, to apply for a marriage license, or even just renewing your car tabs is a statue that is only there to remind us all that our system is against us. Walla Walla is native land. We should not hold colonizers in a higher regard than those who were here before them. This statue should be removed. I am not considered native by the USA standards because I’m Mexican-American, but I am a woman of indigenous descent and I denounce this statueand you should too. Please help me to bring this forward to Walla Walla City Council and have this statue removed from public property.” (Petition now gathering signatures)

When did I discover the statue of Christopher Columbus on the grounds of the Walla Walla County Courthouse? If you had asked me at age 10, “Who is that?” I would have answered “It’s a little kid with a big ball!” Eventually, I discovered that this was a statue of Christopher Columbus that had been given to the community by the Italian immigrant community in 1911. Only as an adult did I stand at the base of the monument and discover my personal connection. In the midst of all those melodious Italian names was “V. Paietta,” my grandfather. I did not know Vasinto, who died in 1946, but here’s what I learned from my mother. Her dad was a man of few words, but his words were regarded as trustworthy. That’s what brought about his nickname, George, as in George Washington. His wife (my grandmother, Catherine) was commonly referred to as Mrs. Washington. It seems that non-Italians found the vowel-laden Italian names odd or difficult to remember, hence the nicknames. George sang in a lovely tenor voice, especially after a few glasses of wine. Like most Italians, he farmed. As my mother matured to womanhood, George wanted her to marry an Italian gardener who raised onions, “big, beautiful onions.” Mother wanted nothing to do with him. She married Francis, but George gave his blessing. The great depression (the one in the 1930s) crushed his spirit. He was one of the last to board the stock market train, and one of the first to be run over. He died at age 59. And he contributed to the statue.

There are paradoxes aplenty in the Christopher Columbus controversy. He can be despised for the atrocities of Europe’s colonization of the Americas. (By the way, should we also deconstruct thie name for the Western continents and our country, which is derived from another Italian navigator and explorer, Amerigo Vespucci?) But do those who take offense at the honor paid to Columbus defend the dignity of those who erected this statue? Or more to the point, do they embrace new immigrants, who seek shelter and succor pledged the words on another monument: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We descendants of our ancestors on the Columbus monument can ask ourselves the same questions.

I foresee that Columbus eventually will go. I hope a suitable place will be found for his statue, not so much to honor him as to remember those who were proud of their ancestry and grateful for the new world where they made their home.

For an historic photo of the 1911 dedication of this statue, you can go to https://arminda.whitman.edu/object/arminda29742

If you want to sign the petition for removal of the statue, you can to go to https://www.change.org/p/walla-walla-city-council-remove-christopher-columbus-statue-in-front-of-city-courthouse


Photos from Walla Walla Sherriff’s Department and Father Raymond Kalema.

Columbus Statue with Spray Paint