Mixed Feelings In New Haven's Wooster Square As City Plans Removal Of Columbus Statue
New Haven has become the latest municipality in Connecticut to announce it will remove a statue of Christopher Columbus. The statue, in Wooster Square, is in the center of the city’s traditionally Italian American neighborhood.
Mayor Justin Elicker said in a statement Monday many leaders in the Italian community have taken proactive steps to decide to remove the statue.
He said it will be removed “out of respect for the cultures, lives and societies damaged from the atrocities of colonialism.”
New Haven joins Hartford, Middletown and New London in removing Columbus statues. The latter two announced the moves as a way to temporarily protect the statues from vandalism as city leaders seek a longer-term solution. Several of the monuments have been defaced with red paint in recent days.
Civic moves to end the honoring of Christopher Columbus come in response to widespread protests demanding racial justice across the state. Protesters cite Columbus’ treatment of native peoples in the Americas and see him as a symbol of European colonialism and genocide. A popular petition in New Haven sought the removal of the statue.
But not everyone in the city -- and particularly in the neighborhood around Wooster Square -- is happy with the decision.
"That’s our heritage,” said Flo Christadore, sitting on her porch close to Wooster Square Monday evening. “We look forward to Columbus Day. We put the wreaths up; we have a Mass. I’m 75 years old; that’s been there since I was a little kid. Why would they want to take the statue down now? I mean, come on, that’s an Italian heritage. I think it’s wrong.”
Bill Iovonne, 87, owns Iovonne’s Funeral Home on the edge of the Wooster Square park. Also Italian American, he grew up in the area and agrees that the statue is part of the community’s heritage.
“I see no reason to take it down,” he said. “It’s called Columbus Green since I was a kid. And if you go back in history, you’ll be taking a lot of statues down of a lot of people.”
But newer arrivals to the neighborhood don’t see the need to celebrate the events of 1492. Lucky Coffey moved to Wooster Square from Oklahoma two years ago.
“When I saw the statue in this neighborhood, I was actually kind of surprised,” she said. “And when Columbus Day rolled around, I saw they were putting wreaths around it. Back in my community in Oklahoma, they changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I’m kind of elated to hear that, you know, maybe some change is coming.”
Coffey said she’d signed the petition for the statue’s removal.
The city alder for Ward 8 where Wooster Square is located is Ellen Cupo.
“I am proud of the work done by the Wooster Square Community to come to consensus on this issue, and I believe that our actions to remove the statue from Wooster Square Park is on the right side of history,” she said in a statement to Connecticut Public Radio. “Every person who lives in or visits Wooster Square should feel safe, and should not have to be confronted with figures that remind them of violence and oppression. This moment could not have been made possible without the work and activism done by Latinx, Black, and queer folks calling for justice on this issue for years.”
Elicker offered a small olive branch to those disturbed by a change in their long-held traditions.
“After the statue is removed, I believe it is important that we, as a community, have a conversation about how to best honor the heritage of so many Italians who have made New Haven their home,” he said.