City Council unanimously approved a new name for Columbus Park on Thursday. The 2-acre park near downtown is now Piazza Italia Park.
“It’s not about erasing history, it’s about telling the truth about history,” Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) said in response to concerns that removing the park’s statue of Christopher Columbus and renaming the park is an attempt to rewrite history.
The statue was removed July 1 after it was vandalized amid local and national calls to take down symbols of the Confederacy and historical racism and oppression as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who first landed in the Americas in 1492, has a legacy tied to colonization and violence.
Michael Knuffke, a resident who spoke against the measure, said the City shouldn’t rename parks because historical figures fall out of favor during times of civil unrest.
“We cannot rule by feelings,” he said.
“The people we put on statues are the ones we revere” and reflect our values, Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said. She joined Viagran and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who led the process to make changes to the park, in calling for a review of surrounding streets names, such as Columbus Street, as well.
A four-member ad hoc committee formed to review the park changes voted unanimously in favor of them last month.
The Columbus statue and name, for some groups, was a “symbol of pain and, for another [group], a symbol of heritage,” Treviño said. The park will continue to honor Italian history in San Antonio while respecting Indigenous groups.
Jennifer Falcon, an activist who identified herself as an Indigenous woman, said the park’s new name is a “performative act of solidarity” with the protests. Real change would come in the form of cuts to the City’s police department budget, by reallocating at least $8 million to other services that combat poverty and racism, Falcon said.
Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) said in an email that the changes are “the beginning of a healing process for many.”
“The removal of the Columbus statue is meant to speak to all residents of San Antonio,” Andrews-Sullivan said. “We can never erase history, but we can certainly make history read inclusively. … We have heard the cries of our community and we stand in solidarity with you.”
The Christopher Columbus Italian Society donated the sculpture to the City in 1957 and requested in June that it be removed and the park renamed.
The park is in the former heart of San Antonio’s Italian immigrant neighborhood before highway construction and other development prompted its demolition in the 1950s. The Italian society was founded in May 1890 and built the Italian Catholic Church, San Francesco di Paola, in 1927. The church and Christopher Columbus Italian Hall are still located next to the park.