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Petition seeks to replace Christopher Columbus statue in Cleveland's Little Italy with one of Ettore Boiardi, aka 'Chef Boyardee'

The Italian immigrant moved to Cleveland in 1926 & lived in the area for the rest of his life.
Credit: Nati Harnik/AP
A statue of Chef Boyardee stands in front of the world headquarters of ConAgra Foods in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015.

CLEVELAND — As Americans continue to debate and grapple with their country's past, the discussion surrounding the appropriateness of statues honoring certain historical figures rages on.

In the southern part of the country, that discussion has mostly centered around former members of the Confederacy such as Gen. Robert E. Lee. Further north, and especially here in Ohio, it has greatly focused on one man: Christopher Columbus.

The explorer's 15th century-voyage to the New World remains memorialized throughout the U.S. with its own holiday, and many of Italian descent see him as a cultural icon. However, others have presented evidence of Columbus' brutal treatment of the indigenous population of the Americas, his participation in the early slave trade, and the fact that he never actually set foot in what is now the modern-day United States.

To that end, Ohio's capital city of Columbus has sought to remove several statues of Christopher, and some (though not a majority) have even sought to completely change the town's name. Here in Cleveland, a statue of Columbus stands tall at the entrance of a park in the Little Italy neighborhood, but now one group wants to replace him with a local and national icon.

Credit: 3News

A petition on Change.org is arguing for a statue of Ettore Boiardi to be erected in the place where the Columbus statue currently stands. For those wondering who that is, you probably know him better as the character for the pasta brand he founded and championed: "Chef Boyardee."

Boiardi arrived at Ellis Island from Italy in 1914 at the age of 16, and after earning his keep as a chef in New York City moved to Cleveland 12 years later. He opened a restaurant on East 9th Street and Woodland Avenue, and the sauce he made became so popular he and his brothers eventually opened up a factory in Milton, Pennsylvania to manufacture and sell it under the current name. The spelling was changed to help Americans pronounce it correctly.

The family produced food rations for U.S. soldiers during World War II, earning a Gold Star order of excellence for Boiardi. He sold the brand not long after the war, but later returned as it's spokesperson, filming a series of popular commercials that helped make him a multimillionaire.

Boiardi lived in Northeast Ohio for the rest of his live before passing away in 1985, survived by his wife Helen and son Mario. He is buried in All Souls Cemetery in Chardon.

So far, the petition asking for the Boiardi statue has garnered more than 80 signatures. Organizers called the chef "an immigrant success story who enriched our community with his food and iconic mustache."

"[Columbus] was a racist monster who initiated the genocide against indigenous Americans," the petition reads. "If Italian-Americans in Cleveland want to celebrate one of their own, they need look no further than the iconic Ettore (Hector) Boiardi."

A statue of Boiardi currently stands at ConAgra Foods headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. The company currently owns the Chef Boyardee brand.

Credit: Nati Harnik/AP
A statue of Chef Boyardee stands in front of the world headquarters of ConAgra Foods in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015.

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