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New statue in New Haven celebrating Italian American heritage gets mixed reactions

A sculpture representing a young immigrant Italian American family rests near a pedestal where a statue representing Christopher Columbus once stood on June 10, 2024 in New Haven, Connecticut. The statue of Columbus was removed in 2020 after protests over his controversial legacy including genocide against indigenous peoples in North and South America.
Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public
A sculpture representing a young immigrant Italian American family rests near a pedestal where a statue representing Christopher Columbus once stood on June 10, 2024 in New Haven, Connecticut. The statue of Columbus was removed in 2020 after protests over his controversial legacy including genocide against indigenous peoples in North and South America.

David Lee strummed a guitar while sitting on his front porch in New Haven on Monday. He lives two blocks away from Wooster Square Park, where the city installed a new sculpture representing an Italian American immigrant family, replacing a controversial one of Christopher Columbus which was removed by the city.

Lee said he understands why the old statue means so much to Italian Americans in the city, but emphasized that a new sculpture is a chance for city residents to move on.

“Replacing the statue, it's a way that the community comes together,” Lee said.

Others like Matthew Guarnieri, President of the Italian American Defense League, an advocacy group promoting Italian American culture in the city, wants the statue back and opposed the new sculpture, representing an Italian American immigrant family.

The Columbus statue was removed in 2020 after a series of, at times, violent protests over the explorer’s controversial legacy of genocide against indigenous peoples in North and South America.

And while the new sculpture was praised by local elected officials, some residents feel ambivalent about it, even as Mayor Justin Elicker said residents largely approve of it.

The sculpture itself, now located at the base where the Christopher Columbus statue once stood, doesn’t represent a man looking down from a pedestal. Instead, it represents a more relatable reality, according to Elicker.

The young immigrant boy pointing upward is supposed symboliz Italian Americans looking forward to the future with hope on June 10, 2024 in New Haven, Connecticut.
Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public
The young immigrant boy pointing upward is supposed symboliz Italian Americans looking forward to the future with hope on June 10, 2024 in New Haven, Connecticut.

“The new monument represents a family of four that just arrived with a suitcase in hand and hope and dreams,” Elicker said. “And many people in the Italian community in New Haven and in the region, have that story in their backgrounds.”

Guarnieri, who’s organization is currently suing to have the statue returned to its former resting spot, criticized the sculpture, which according to him, flattens the experiences of Italian Americans who arrived in the city and quickly became well off in the country.

“We weren't just an Italian peasant family,” Guarnieri said.

The sculpture shows young parents with a son and daughter looking ahead to the future, a crucifix across a girl’s neck while she holds a book. Even that was criticized by Guarnieri.

“The child is holding “The history of the United States,” Guarnieri said. “And I'm unsure, is this a reference to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States taking a shot at Italians as occupiers, and we're far from that,” he said.

Lee, who is Asian American, said he thinks the statue is less about what it symbolizes and more about what it means to Italian Americans. Some, like Guarnieri, pride in the statue, but other Italian Americans such as U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro attended the sculpture’s unveiling and supported replacing the statue.

But Lee said he sympathized with the descendants of indigenous peoples who suffered as a result of Columbus.

"I might feel differently if I were from a culture that was enslaved, but my people just built the railroad,” he said.

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