Never one to miss an opportunity to champion the history of Italian Americans and one-up Mayor Bill de Blasio at the same time, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a statue of Maria Francesca Cabrini in Battery Park City on Monday afternoon.
"The world is poisoned with erroneous theories and needs to be taught sane doctrines. But it is difficult to strengthen what has become crooked," Cuomo told the assembled audience at the unveiling, quoting Mother Cabrini herself. "So true," he added.
Mother Cabrini was the first American to be canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic church. The nun founded dozens of schools, hospitals, and and orphanages after being sent to New York City by the Vatican in 1889. As Governor Cuomo noted, it was a time when Italian immigrants faced severe discrimination, and when typhoid, smallpox, and tuberculosis killed countless New Yorkers.
The Mother Cabrini statue came about after Mayor de Blasio's wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, created a commission—She Built NYC—to address the lack of female historical statues in the city. The commission asked for nominations, and Mother Cabrini received the most, though there is already a shrine in her honor located in Upper Manhattan. (A statue of Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was unveiled in Central Park this summer by the Monumental Women's Statue Fund.) Not prioritizing Mother Cabrini upset some Italian Americans, including actor Chazz Palminteri, who called McCray "racist," and called into The Brian Lehrer Show to yell at the mayor (he later apologized).
Governor Cuomo, who at the time was so impassioned about informing the public about the history of discrimination against Italian Americans that he used the n-word on live radio, swooped in and decided that he would shepherd the statue of Mother Cabrini into existence. This all happened a year ago.
Meanwhile, the monument to Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle remains an object of scorn by those who argue that the explorer's history of enslaving and killing indigenous people makes him unworthy of this kind of reverence. Monday is also recognized across the country as Indigenous Peoples Day, to honor Native Americans and counter the whitewashed version of history that unquestioningly reveres Columbus.
Cuomo did not mention Indigenous Peoples Day during Monday's announcement.
The statue itself, created by Jill Biagi and Giancarlo Biagi, is of Mother Cabrini in a boat with two children.
The girl is a reflection of Cabrini's childhood, Jill Biagi explained, and she's holding a book as a reminder of Cabrini's "commitment to education." The boy is holding an ocarina, "representing the culture immigrants have brought to America."
Giancarlo Biagi added, "We hope the monument brings joy and moments of contemplation."
This story has been changed to correct the names of the sculptors, Jill Biagi and Giancarlo Biagi, and the group that paid for the statue of Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.