Ashifa Kassam, The Guardian, July 1, 2020
A handful of towns in Spain have sought to wade into America’s reckoning with its past, offering to rehome controversial statues targeted over their links to colonialism and centuries of genocide against indigenous peoples in the Americas.
Last month, lawmakers in California announced that the statue of Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus would be removed from the state capitol in Sacramento, describing it as “completely out of place today” in the capitol rotunda where it has stood since 1883.
“Christopher Columbus is a deeply polarising historical figure given the deadly impact his arrival in this hemisphere had on indigenous populations,” the legislative leadership said in a joint statement.
The news prompted a flurry of action 6,000 miles away in the small town of Talavera de la Reina in north-eastern Spain. A letter to California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, was soon drafted on behalf of an association representing some 2,000 residents who said they had been “deeply saddened” to hear of the statue’s fate.
“We’re not ashamed of our history,” wrote the Neighbours Association of Fray Hernando de la Talavera, named after a confessor of Queen Isabella. “We’re aware that mistakes were made, but we also know how unfair it is to judge the past from the point of view of today’s society.”
The group ended with a request for the Carrara marble statue, adding: “We’ll take care of all the shipping costs.”
The small town of Boadilla del Monte, on the outskirts of Madrid, has also contacted American officials, this time in a letter directed to San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed.
The town’s conservative mayor, Javier Úbeda, said he had been disheartened to see a statue of the Spanish priest Junípero Serra had been toppled, while another of Miguel Cervantes, author of the literary classic Don Quixote, had been defaced with graffiti.
Describing both men as “architects in part of what we so proudly today call western civilization”, the mayor said he stood ready to take the statues if San Francisco “could not protect them with the honour and respect they deserve”.
Statues of Serra have been targeted across California, with protesters pointing to the central role the 18th-century missionary played in the violent colonisation of the state.
After the Serra’s statue was toppled in San Francisco, the embassy of Spain in the United States shot back, writing that it “deeply regretted the destruction and would like to offer a reminder of his great efforts in support of indigenous communities”, on Twitter.
The outreach was part of a broader offensive, launched by the Spanish government and aimed at officials across the United States after protesters targeted dozens of monuments related to Spain’s conquest of the Americas. “We have discreetly expressed our concern and also our desire to contribute to a better dissemination and understanding of [Spain’s] legacy,” the foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, told reporters last month.
She chalked up the incidents to the lack of knowledge over the shared history between the United States and Spain. “This great part of American history that was the Spanish legacy has been overlooked.”