After nearly three months of continuous community debate sparked by the removal of the Christopher Columbus monument on Wooster Square on June 24, New Haven is now seeking Italian-Americans for “appropriate” replacement ideas, according to a September 16th memo sent from Major Justin Elicker’s office in New Haven.
The Wooster Square Monuments Committee, which Elicker appointed after the statue’s removal, has met several times in recent months to discuss replacing the monument, according to Bill Iovanne, chairman of the committee. He said the committee had decided on its own to come up with the idea of replacing a statue of Columbus from within the city’s Italian American community. To date, proposals for a new monument include figures such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, the famous Italian general, a more abstract depiction of an Italian-American family and a representation of a slice of pizza.
“The messages and stories that will be told are about the experiences of Italian immigrants,” said Iovanne. “This is an opportunity for our community to voice opinions and open dialogue. It’s been a learning experience for all of us, and that’s an interesting part of it. “
Iovanne said organizers had recorded more than 50 submissions for the monument and said public interest in the project was not surprising given Wooster Square’s old nickname “Little Italy”. Until now, the committee has not yet evaluated the proposition it received. Organizers will assess proposals from October 12, deadlines for suggestions, and decide what to give the artist.
For Iovanne, the project has almost achieved its goal.
“I was born and raised in Wooster Square, so whatever happens here is personal to me,” said Iovanne.
Frances Calzetta, President of the Italian American Woman in Greater New Haven, was born and raised in Wooster Square, immersed in the Italian culture of New Haven all her life. As the daughter of a wealthy Italian merchant who came to America in 1913, she told News that she cared deeply about her heritage, and how her hometown could help preserve it.
Calzetta said she joined the committee to bring Italian and Italian American background knowledge to assess submissions from a historical context. He told News that the existence of a committee set up to replace the statue of Columbus, which some do not want to get rid of, has divided members of the Italian-American community.
“In my conversations with other Italian Americans, some were very, very upset, and some simply didn’t support the committee, and that’s a substantial number of people,” Calzetta said. “On the other hand, there are some who think ‘all right, if we can’t have Columbus, then I’m willing to give advice.'”
In its announcement in September, the Mayor’s Office stressed that the project would be fully funded through private donations. Calzetta noted that under different circumstances the project would likely be easier to fund from within the Italian-American community, but because of the highly controversial debate surrounding the removal of the statue, he imagines many will be less likely to contribute financially.
Many people outside the Italian-American community are also following the committee’s actions closely. Meghanlata Gupta (Bahweting Anishinaabe) ’21, President of the Native American Association at Yale, stressed that as an Indigenous person, she is delighted to see the statue of Columbus removed this summer and thanks the activists in New Haven who are fighting for this change. For Gupta, Columbus represented the beginning of the country’s ruthless settler colonialism.
“His self-image only serves to romanticize his racist legacy and oppression.” Gupta said, “The United States must fully confront its centuries-old history of slavery and genocide.”
As for the committee’s work, Gupta stressed that the Mayor’s Office should consult with New Haven’s Indigenous residents as submissions keep coming for new monuments. He said the city must commit to concentrating new voices, the voices of the Indigenous community in New Haven, to move forward.
“Since New Haven was founded on stolen land, it’s important for the Mayor’s Office to know this history,” said Gupta. “I would personally like to see a statue commemorating the presence, strength and resistance of the local Indigenous people.”
Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa says this process has been one of mixed emotions for him and the Italian-Americans in New Haven as a whole. Both parents were born in southern Italy, and came to the United States in the early 60’s. Festa told News that many in his community saw Columbus as someone who “took a chance”, a representation of the journey that Italian-Americans are taking to find a better life. Festa added that in a modern context, there are important issues with his legacy that everyone should ponder over.
“There are lessons to be learned,” said Festa. “There should be no disrespect for indigenous peoples. Nothing deserves to be treated less than humans. “
Festa also stressed that whatever should replace Columbus must reflect the strong symbol of immigration and hope that many Italian Americans saw in the earlier statue. Iovanne said the committee did not take this task lightly, and realized that although the committee itself was a temporary body, its repercussions would be permanent in a place that she, like many Italian Americans, had been calling her home for over the years.
Wooster Square is home to more than 3,000 of New Haven’s 130,000 residents.
Thomas Birmingham | [email protected]
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