The debate over whether to celebrate Columbus Day fired up in Southington Monday.
Supports and opponents went head-to-head over the dedication of a Christopher Columbus bust in front of the town’s municipal building.
Italian groups and the Knights of Columbus were invited to speak, while other residents held a silent, peaceful protest with signs during the ceremony.
The bust went up last month after being in the works for six years.
Local Italian groups, the Calvanese Foundation and the Knights of Columbus led the effort to honor Columbus with a bust. There was no way for town officials to predict it would be installed during recent disagreement across the country about the role of public statues and who they honor.
“The best part about this is to not tear down statues, to not hold up signs, but all sit in a room and talk about it and learn,” said Southington Town Council Chairman Michael Riccio.
“Christopher Columbus was not a saint. He wasn’t the first person here, but he did discover America in the sense of connecting it to European civilization. We are all a part of the civilization that begins with Christopher Columbus,” said Waterbury resident Peter Wolfgang.
While many in the Italian-American community were aiming to pay tribute to the explorer’s historical contribution, some refuse to honor Columbus for the negative impact he had on indigenous people.
“He led and participated in the annihilation of over 3 million indigenous people in this country. He did not discover America,” argued Southington resident Susan Dantino.
Over the weekend at least two other Columbus statues were vandalized with red paint – one in New Haven and one in Middletown – presumably in protest. Police are investigating to see if those cases are related.