Southington Christopher Columbus statue greeted with protests

SOUTHINGTON --  Controversy struck the Southington Community on Columbus Day as crowds of protesters stood up against the unveiling of a new Christopher Columbus statue.

The statue was erected on the lawn of the John Weichsel Municipal Center in Southington.  A dedication ceremony for the new monument was held Monday.

"This project was meant to honor all nationalities who have had the opportunity to immigrate to this land for a better future,” Antonio Cusano, President of Southington’s Sons of Italy, said during the ceremony.

The ceremony and unveiling was greeting with protests as dozens of residents held signs opposing the idea that the explorer should be idealized.

“If we want to celebrate someone for discovery he isn’t the person that I think we should be celebrating given what we know about him,” Erica Roggeveen Byrne, one of the protest organizers and co-founder of the group Southington Women for Progress, said.

The silent protest was carried out peacefully as Southington police officers stood watch over both sides.  The protesters said they mainly take issue with the impact they claim Columbus had on the native people of the Americas.

“How he thought that he could subjugate the natives and what the price he could get for enslaving different native people,” Bryne said.

The protesters also said they have a problem with the wording on the new monument, arguing it comes with historical inaccuracies.  They are not, however, asking for the statue to come down, but rather for an updated plaque to be placed on the outside.

Southington resident Dorie Conlon Prugini, joined the protest Monday.  She said she and other protest organizers would like a new plaque to be one that “explains the complex history and addresses the atrocities, or maybe tells the history from the native’s point of view as well.”

The group added they have reached out to scholars to get help with the wording they would like to see on the plaque.

The proposal to install the bust was unanimously approved by the Southington town council back in 2015.  The town’s council chairman Michael Riccio addressed the ongoing controversy during the dedication ceremony.

"Over the last few weeks there has been increased dialogue about the history of the age of discovery and Columbus' part in it.  I would love for these conversations to continue and for them to become a part of our education curriculum,” Riccio said to the packed room of residents.

He also acknowledged the opposition’s side by stating he agrees that not all of Columbus’ impacts were as positive as others.

"We shouldn't burry them or tear them down.  We should use them as a catalyst for open and positive discussion so that we can improve ourselves as human beings,” he said.

Riccio also said while he encourages conversations from both sides of the issue, he added making changes to the monument now may be opening another whole can of worms.

“Where does it end do they want to change monuments on the town green, the Civil War?  I have a hard time with what’s going on in the south with General Lee.  You can’t wipe away history.  People lived in a time period, you know when Columbus came here they fought with swords and it was barbaric but that’s all they knew that’s what they were taught,” Riccio said.

The proposal for the statue came from several different local Italian-American organizations, including the Calvanese Foundation and the Southington Sons of Italy.  The bust was funded by private donations.