Nearly a year after being removed from Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma, a Christopher Columbus statue in Mexico City will be replaced by another that honors an Olmec indigenous woman.
The statue was created by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, said Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum during a press conference on the International Day of the Indigenous Woman.
Titled Tlalli, the Nahuatl word for “land,” Reyes’ sculpture will depict an indigenous woman from the Olmec civilization, a group of Mesoamerican peoples who occupied present-day Mexico, from about 1400 BCE to 400 BCE.
Reyes was inspired by the Nahuatl word tlalli, meaning Earth.
“It’s such a beautiful word that it inspired me to create an allegory,” he said. “I asked myself: what form could this word take? Historically, representations of the Earth are feminine, and that’s why my sculpture is a woman.”
Columbus statue will be transferred to Parque América, in the district of Miguel Hidalgo, in collaboration with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).
“We will put up a statue dedicated to indigenous women,” Sheinbaum said. “We owe it to them. We exist because of them,” she added. “It’s the story of our country and our homeland.”
According to Sheibaum, the statue would be erected as early as October 12, around Dia de la Raza, a day to recognize indigenous cultures.
Around 15% of Mexico’s population is Indigenous. Last year, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) made a historic apology to the nation’s Mexican people for the violence inflicted on them by the Spanish during their conquest of the Aztec Empire in the 16th century. Despite promises by AMLO to improve the lives of Native Mexicans, however, the community continues to face poverty and other mounting challenges, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Statues of colonizers who subjected, by sword and by disease, the inhabitants of this and other continents, are coming down around the world,” Reyes told Hyperallergic. “It has taken us 500 years to change the focus, and today we understand that it wasn’t a ‘discovery,’ it was an invasion.”
The Columbus statue in Mexico City was removed last year, for restoration work. Then graffiti covered metal barriers that surrounded the area, saying in Spanish, “Assassin of Christopher Columbus!! We’ve already knocked him down!!”
When the Mexico City statue was removed last year, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Columbus Day was “a very controversial date and leads itself to conflicting ideas and political conflicts.”
In the United States, a growing number of states, cities and towns have come to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day, sometimes inspiring a backlash.
The movements follow long-standing calls from Native-American activist groups, who argue that Columbus’ travels led to the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the Americas, to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day.