‘Columbus Might Be Dwarfed to Obscurity’: Italian Americans’ Engagement with Columbus Monuments in a Time of Decolonization

  • Laura E. RubertoEmail author
  • Joseph Sciorra
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies book series (PMMS)


With the ongoing ‘decolonization’ actions of Christopher Columbus’s legacy in the United States, Italian Americans have been challenged to contend with their historical affiliation with and championing of this historical figure. This chapter focuses on two contemporary cases involving calls to remove memorializations of Columbus—Manhattan’s large-scale Columbus Circle monument and the smaller Columbus statue in San Jose City Hall in California—so as to consider the roles collective memory and ideology play with civic monuments and public art. Building on Pierre Nora’s notion of rememoration the authors position Columbian material culture as sites of memory whereby contemporary Italian Americans use rhetorical strategies to defend or decry monuments originally gifted primarily by Italian immigrants to U.S. municipalities, in light of mounting criticism against them in the present. Scrutinizing various histories and debates, the chapter sheds light on the dynamic experiences and actions of Italian Americans, a white ethnic group often misguidedly defined in limiting terms.



We would like to thank Yiorgos Anagnostou, Siân Gibby, and Dell Upton for their suggestions on earlier versions of this article. We also received feedback from Marta Gutman and others as part of the Columbia University Seminar in Modern Italian Studies, as well as from participants of the 2019 Memory Studies Association conference. We are grateful to Melinda Riddle and Lucinda Norman of the city of San Jose for arranging an interview with the mayor and gathering some of the city’s archived materials for us.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Berkeley City CollegeBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Queens College, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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