A statue of Christopher Columbus in Wooster Square was vandalized last weekend in the run-up to Columbus Day, sparking a range of reactions from residents.
According to WTNH, red paint was thrown on the statue, and the words “kill the colonizer” were spray-painted on the sidewalk nearby. New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman declined to comment on the matter, saying only that it is under investigation. New Haven’s Columbus statue was one of many across the country targeted by activists in the lead-up to Columbus Day. Elsewhere in Connecticut, statutes of Columbus in Norwalk, Bridgeport and Middletown were also vandalized.
“[Columbus] was responsible for the massacring of many indigenous people,” said Jesus Morales, an organizer with the local immigrant rights group Unidad Latina en Acción. “I’m hopeful that this national controversy about the statues and monuments continues and that we can go back and revise … who we remember as a heroic figure and who should not be given that privilege.”
Morales, who praised the vandalism on Facebook, said statutes of Columbus are painful reminders to descendants of those he negatively affected and that New Haven’s statue belongs in a museum.
New Haven’s observance of Columbus Day included the annual Greater New Haven Columbus Day Parade in West Haven on Sunday. The parade rotates among four municipalities: West Haven, New Haven, Hamden and Branford. The parade is organized by a private group, not by the city, according to City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
Laura Luzzi, chairman of the Columbus Day Committee of Greater New Haven, condemned the vandalism in a statement to the News. She said the committee views Columbus Day as an opportunity to celebrate Italian-American heritage and the contributions that the Italian-American community has made to the United States.
“In light of the negative political climate surrounding Christopher Columbus, we celebrate him coming to the New World, which truly opened up the doors for all European immigrants to come here for the advancement of their families looking for a better way of life,” she wrote.
Morales said that while he understands the significance of Columbus to the Italian-American community, Columbus is a figure of “oppression and genocide” to many people of indigenous heritage.
He added that he hopes the vandalism will serve as a jumping-off point for conversations about Columbus’ legacy.
“Let’s sit down, have a conversation, have a dialogue and understand each other,” he said.
The conflict over statues of Columbus is emblematic of a larger conflict over the celebration of Columbus Day. Nationwide, various cities and states have stopped observing Columbus Day, although it remains a federal holiday. Instead, they recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
At Yale, students and community members observedIndigenous Peoples’ Day in a two-day celebration organized by the Association of Native Americans at Yale that included speaking events, a solidarity rally and a dance performance.
Two Ivy League schools, Cornell and Brown, officially recognize the holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Harvard recognizes both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day, while Yale’s calendar recognizes neither Columbus Day nor Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Talia Soglin | firstname.lastname@example.org