A prominent statue of Christopher Columbus that stood in one of Mexico City’s busiest avenues, Paseo de la Reforma, is set to be replaced with a memorial by Mexican sculptor Pedro Reyes honoring Indigenous women, announced the city’s mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo.
The 19th century bronze figure was frequently targeted by demonstrators, who denounced the Italian navigator’s role in colonizing the Americas. Last October, it was removed by city officials ahead of a planned restoration, prompting speculation that it would not return to its place at the 10-lane roundabout.
On Sunday, at an event marking International Day of the Indigenous Woman, mayor Sheinbaum Pardo said that the new statue would honor influential women in Mexican history.
“We owe it to them. We exist because of them,” she said. “It is the history of our country and our homeland.” The new monument is expected to go up by October 12, which is recognized in the United States as Christopher Columbus Day but known in Mexico as Dia de la Raza, or Day of the Race.
The announcement follows a global reckoning with monuments honoring historical figures linked to white supremacy and colonial violence. Galvanized by Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, protestors defaced or toppled statues in major cities around the world; in a widely shared video, a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was tossed into a harbor.
Monuments to Christopher Columbus have been debated for at least a century, with many decrying his driving role in the genocide of Native Americans and the transatlantic slave trade. Last year, statues of the Italian navigator were toppled and beheaded in several cities across the U.S. amid a growing push to abolish the federal holiday commemorating his arrival in the Caribbean in 1492.
In Mexico City, protestors denouncing the European suppression of Indigenous American civilizations gathered annually at the statue on the holiday, often defacing it with spray paint. When the statue was removed last year, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that “it is a date that is very controversial and lends itself to conflicting ideas and political conflicts.”
Pedro Reyes, who has has been commissioned to create the new monument, dubbed Tlalli (or “earth” in the Nahuatl language), will reportedly depict an Olmec woman, according to the Mexican news outlet El Universal. The Olmec people are among the oldest inhabitants of Mesoamerica and lived throughout present-day Mexico.
“It’s very important to dedicate a monument to indigenous women and to the Earth, because if anyone can teach us how to take care of this planet, it’s our native peoples, and that is precisely what we must learn again,” Reyes said.
The Columbus statue will be resettled in a less prominent location in a small park in the Polanco neighborhood.