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Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
Christopher Columbus Statue
It has been more than half a millennium since Christopher Columbus sailed from Europe to the New World. That journey thousands of miles in a rickety wooden boat is starting to seem easy compared to the storms of controversy that have surrounded him in recent years. In the late 1980's, a new term arrived in America's social consciousness: Political Correctness. It was based on the premise that it is wrong for one person to be critical of another. While seemingly harmless on its face, once it began to become accepted in political and academic circles, it started causing problems. It spawned something called Revisionist History, where the facts of the past were twisted, distorted, or ignored in order to achieve social goals. There has been little free speech in America since. It was in this maelstrom that Columbus found himself posthumously. In 1991, the Italian Cultural Center of Houston, and the Federation of Italian-American Organizations wanted to mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas. To do so, they commissioned a six-foot-tall bronze statue of the sailor. The groups presented it as a gift to the city, and recommended it be placed in Bell Park, near the Italian Cultural Center. But the city's Municipal Arts Commission rejected the gift. The commission didn't like the way it looked, and some members thought it was not politically correct to erect a statue of Columbus on city property. One even mentioned in public that it would offend Houston's Mexican population, failing to understand that many of them were descended from Spanish explorers who came to the Americas the same way and for the same reasons as Columbus. When the controversy was reported in the Houston Chronicle, the panel was suddenly silent, and decided that it was up to City Council to approve the statue. Then members of the panel started pointing fingers, saying the decision was based solely on the artistic merits of the piece, not on any political agenda. Eventually city council approved the statue, and it was placed in Bell Park with Columbus' outstretched hand pointing the way to the Italian Cultural Center.
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