Dominicans Defend Statue of Founding Father

Congressman Espaillat stands in front of Duarte’s statue in Lower Manhattan. (Photo via Rep. Adriano Espaillat/Twitter)

The “war of the statues” unleashed in the city after City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito proposed to take down one of Christopher Columbus from Columbus Circle – an idea rejected by other political leaders – has also created controversy among Hispanics in the Big Apple.

The Dominican community came out to defend the image of national hero Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the Caribbean country’s founders, located on Sixth Avenue and Canal Street in Lower Manhattan. The demonstration took place after it was divulged that the statue would be included on a list of monuments that Mayor Bill de Blasio wants evaluated to determine if they should be demolished.

“If there is an attempt to remove this statue, we will fight to ensure that it stays,” said New York Rep. Adriano Espaillat in a categorical tone. The Dominican-born politician added that “the legacy of Juan Pablo Duarte should remain intact and not be tainted.”

On Thursday, Espaillat participated in a demonstration organized by Dominican political and community leaders, including Council member Ydanis Rodríguez and State Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa.

“No Haitian council members are behind the proposal to remove this statue. Those who are saying that do not mean well,” said Rodríguez in reference to a report made by a local outlet stating that the idea came from Haitian citizens who consider Duarte to have led the fight for Dominican independence with a “a segregationist attitude.”

For her part, Assemblywoman De La Rosa said that Dominicans will remain united against attacks on the immigrant community. “If a proposal ever arises to eliminate this statue, we will be the first ones here.”

The statue was donated in 1978 to the City of New York by Dominican officials to commemorate the 165th anniversary of Duarte’s birth.

The controversy surrounding the city’s statues stems from a petition to remove statues representing Confederate figures or symbols from public places after the violent incidents caused by white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, who were protesting the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

After Mayor de Blasio announced that Columbus’ statue was in the 90-day review of “all symbols of hate” on city property, a group of council members and elected officials – some of them representing the Italian community – demonstrated to defend the Columbus Circle monument.

The idea to remove Columbus’ statue was proposed last Monday by Mark-Viverito, who stated: “I would definitely encourage [the task force] to take a look at that one as well,” adding that it represented the “oppression” inflicted by the conqueror on the indigenous peoples living in the Caribbean lands at which he arrived, including her native Puerto Rico.

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