The statue, which stands in Columbus Circle in Manhattan, symbolizes the Jonga family’s search for a land of prosperity and riches—not unlike the purpose of Columbus’s journey. Jende Jonga is the “explorer” who leads his family in this search and who, like Columbus, realizes that the land where he disembarks is not what he expected. Just as Columbus eventually realized that he had not arrived in India, Jende realizes that America is not his true home.
Jende designates Columbus Circle the “center of the world,” due to the circle’s place in the center of Manhattan, the borough’s place as the center of New York, New York as “the center of America,” and America as “the center of the world.” Jende considers Columbus Circle to be “the best place in the whole city” because it is where he found comfort during the lonely days before Neni and Liomi arrived in New York. Like Columbus, Jende is exploring and trying to prove to himself and to those back home that the world is not as small or as static as it seems in Cameroon. Though his time in New York does not produce the result that he expected, he learns more about the United States and about himself than he would have had he never set out on his journey of discovery.
The Statue of Christopher Columbus Quotes in Behold the Dreamers
In his first days in America, it was here he came every night to take in the city. It was here he often sat to call her when he got so lonely and homesick that the only balm that worked was the sound of her voice. During those calls, he would ask her how Liomi was doing, what she was wearing, what her plans for the weekend were, and she would tell him everything, leaving him even more wistful for the beauty of her smile, the hearth in his mother’s kitchen, the light breeze at Down Beach, the tightness of Liomi's hug, the coarse jokes and laughter of his friends as they drank Guinness at a drinking spot; leaving him craving everything he wished he hadn’t left behind. During those times, he told her, he often wondered if leaving home in search of something as fleeting as fortune was ever worthwhile.
When he had told her of his plan to return home, she had wondered why he was coming back when others were running out of Limbe, when many in his age group were fleeing to Bahrain and Qatar, or trekking and taking a succession of crowded buses to get from Cameroon to Libya so they could cross to Italy on leaky boats and arrive there with dreams of a happier life if the Mediterranean didn’t swallow them alive.