CHICAGO, Ill. (WTVO) — On the day the U.S. commemorates Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Americas, Italian Americans in the Chicago area are demanding the city return three statues of the explorer that were removed due to protests.

In 2020, then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered the removal of the statues from Grant Park, Arrigo Park and South Chicago.

At the time, Lightfoot said she was trying to avoid further confrontation between police and protesters opposed to the statues. Left-wing protesters pulled down or destroyed many statues of historical figures as part of the civil unrest that erupted nationwide following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The protests initially targeted monuments related to the Confederate army but widened to include other figures, including Columbus, who has been a polarizing figure for years, with Native American advocates pressing for years to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day over their concerns that the 15th-century explorer spurred centuries of genocide against Indigenous people in the Americas.

Some Italian Americans have decried the removal of the statues, saying that their heritage is being attacked.

A group has since called for city leaders to put the statues back, arguing that Columbus’ statues honor the contribution of Italian immigrants to the country.

A lawsuit filed against the city by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans claimed the removal of the Columbus monument in Little Italy violates a nearly 50-year-old agreement the group has with the Park District. 

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has not said what he plans to do with the statues but said this summer that he would consider input from the community.

Columbus Day became a US national holiday in 1937. Columbus’ voyages are celebrated in other countries as well, including the Bahamas, where his ships beached.