For more than twenty years, Columbus Day has come alongside protest in Pueblo, and Monday’s event was no exception.
The Son’s of Italy chapter in Pueblo hosted their 116th Celebration in front of the Columbus Plaza Monday morning. That is where a statue of the 15th-century explorer has stood since 1905.
Protesters arrived right before the event began. They were wearing Native American garb, banging drums, and holding picket signs.
At the intersection of Abriendo Avenue and Broadway Avenue, Pueblo Police set up a buffer zone with barricades to make sure no protesters got too close to the Columbus Day celebrations.
Things began calmly enough, as protesters organized in the middle of the intersection.
Soon after, the scene became a battle of words and shouts. Throughout the crowd there were signs naming Christopher Columbus a murder, and responsible for the genocide of many native peoples. The protesters also said that those celebrating his holiday were racist.
The protesters say they are more of protectors than protesters though. They believe they are protecting the public from racist imagery such as the statue on Columbus Plaza.
“In 1905 when that statue was erected that was the feelings of the day,” said Rita J Martinez, an organizer with Abolish Columbus Day Committee in Pueblo. “People have understood now what’s right and what’s wrong. And that statue is wrong.”
“They have the right to protest this is the United States of America,” said Gino Carleo, President of the Sons of Italy Pueblo Chapter. “But let us celebrate!”
During the ceremony, shouts could be heard from protesters down Abriendo Avenue. Towards the end of the ceremony, Carleo asked the crowd to point towards the protesters and ‘say shame on you!’.
Despite the protests, many came out to celebrate the holiday and Italian heritage.
However, Carleo says the event is more than just about heritage. The day is about celebrating immigrants.
“It’s not just Italians, it’s everyone that benefited from Columbus coming here,” said Carleo.
“It’s not about immigration,” said Martinez. “They are trying to twist things around in the last few years to make it look more palatable and it’s not.”
Martinez says their ultimate goal is to end Columbus Day in Pueblo. Similarly to how many other cities throughout the country have abandoned the holiday.
However, Carleo and the Son’s of Italy say they’ve been honoring Columbus Day for more than a century, and aren’t going anywhere any time soon.