Of Statues and Loss

I went out for lunch a couple of weeks ago.  I usually have a list of errands to run, but on this day, I just needed a few things from one of the local produce market and headed back. It was a hot day, but not unbearable, and because I really didn’t want to go back, I took the long, slow way around.

There are numerous food carts around the hospital where I work, and one of them has been there for years, and the guy who owns it is friendly with many of the employees. As I passed him, he was obviously having a conversation with someone about the recent suggestion that the statue of Christopher Columbus be taken down from Columbus Circle near Central Park.New-york-columbus-circle

Now, I will be perfectly honest. As an Italian American, it stung a little. Just a little, and only for a moment. I quickly remembered that Christopher Columbus, like most explorers of his day, were not exactly respectful of the native peoples of the lands he visited. Well, let’s just lay the cards out on the table: the crews of the fabled Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria were a bunch of animals. They raped, robbed, and spread diseases to the Native Americans. It sucks to know that these are the people who “discovered” our country, doesn’t it?

Anyway, back at the food cart, the person the guy was having the conversation with said, “This used to be a great country. What happened?”

What happened, indeed. Well, the obvious answer is that Trump’s presidency is dividing the country. This can be established no matter what side you’re on—whether you’re anti- or pro-Trump. But I think something else is happening, too.

People are too fond of their freedom and rights, and they’re not going to give them up without a fight.

Columbus-Circle
Columbus Circle

Imagine a child who grows up never having had ice cream. They won’t ever miss it because they don’t know what exactly it is that they’re missing. But once that kid has their first taste of ice cream, you can bet that they will want it again, and again, and again.

It’s only after you’ve had something that you feel the loss when it’s taken away. (Please ignore the obviousness of that statement.) Or, as Hailee Steinfeld sings, “I didn’t know I was starving till I tasted you.”

At the beginning of the year, many Americans were freaking out, and rightly so. We had just gotten blindsided with a president that is against everything this country theoretically stands for, and he is “ruling” under the guise of “making America great again.” But as his presidency proceeded into 2017, the support of his party, his hold on his constituents, and his credibility began to unravel. He had no idea what he was getting into, and I don’t think anyone in his camp foresaw the immense pushback they would get.

There are days when horrible things happen—like the Neo-Nazi riot in Charlottesville—that leave me despondent and feeling hopeless. But then the other side rises up and fights back and it brings my hope up again.

As of this writing, the statue of Columbus remains standing near Central Park. I don’t know whether or not that will remain the case. But we have to remember that in order for the world to—I’m going to get all hippie here—come together in peace and harmony, things have to change.columbus

The USA is no better or worse than many other Western, industrialized countries. There are good things and bad things about it. We have more than our fair share of overzealous right-wingers,  but we also have a whole nation full of people who grew up being told that we have to stand up for what we believe in, to never back down in the face of adversity, and to “fight for truth, justice, and the American way.”

We may lose some battles, but I truly hope we win the war.

As for the island of Manhattan being sold by the local indigenous people to Dutch colonist Peter Minuit: If I were a descendant of those Native Americans, I’d say, “Thanks for nothing for the disease-infested blankets, asshole.”

 

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9 thoughts on “Of Statues and Loss

  1. Great post, R.G. It seems to me that so many see these statues as historical, and they are, but only to the extent of whose history they represent. Many other countries have repudiated their past racist and imperialistic ways, recognizing the genocide and other harms that resulted. The sky didn’t fall when they issued apologies or acknowledgment of historical wrongs. I think we could learn a lot from countries who recognize what some contrition is worth to many of their citizens. I’m with you, I hope we win the war.

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  2. Thought-provoking piece. Looking on from the outside, I have to say I am in awe of the Resistance that is countering the surge of hate which followed in the wake of the Trump election. Take, Charlottesville. It was an awful display of hate and thuggery. The nazis thought their time had come. They wanted to own the streets and intimidate everyone else. But you did not let that happen. In Charlottesville and a week later in Boston, ordinary Americans came together to stop them. That to me is a great thing.
    When I see the women, and men, protesting for Planned Parenthood, I think to myself, these people are great. They will not give up the rights and freedoms they have fought for. Everywhere people are coming together to fight. Nothing Trump does is unopposed. You defeated his attempt to take health care away from millions. The wall is still just talk.
    I don’t know what the fate of your statues should be. Here in Ireland, we are learning to deal more honestly with our past, it is an ongoing process, but a timely one. I am sure that the debate and discussion surrounding the origin or your nation will ultimately lead to a more inclusive view of history. Meanwhile, Americans are speaking out, talking, marching, uniting to protect each other. You are already great.

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    1. Thanks for saying that, Jean! I fear that much of the world despises us or thinks we’re stupid, when in reality, we (the many sane Americans) have been bamboozled and bullied by the few. It’s good to know that some people out there realize this. 🙂

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  3. A lovely honest piece which was comforting to read. Here in Australia (where we STILL don’t even have marriage equality by the way), we were generally horrified when Trump got it- couldn’t believe it! But it is indeed so comforting reading about regular Americans who are likewise horrified, and are taking to the streets. But yes, who wants to give up all our consumer choices and comfy cars and roads, just so that a billion other people in developing countries can have a taste of how we’ve been living for several generations now? Tricky question. I think the entire world is rapidly approaching a very tricky situation (and don’t even get me started on climate change…). Blessings, gabrielle in Oz

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