Protests Greet Newly Dedicated Memorial Honoring Christopher Columbus in Connecticut

Posted Oct. 11, 2017

MP3 Interview with Susan Dantino and Erica Roggeveen Byrne, activists, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

columbus

This year has seen dozens of cities and four states recognize the second Monday in October as “Indigenous People’s Day,” replacing the nation’s Columbus Day holiday. Columbus is being exposed more widely as a person undeserving of honor for his personal behavior toward the indigenous peoples he encountered, and for his larger role in the genocide of millions of people native to the Americas. This year has also seen more defacing of Columbus statues around the country. Bucking those trends, the town of Southington, Connecticut, unveiled a brand-new bust of Columbus on Oct. 9, honoring him for “discovering America.”

The statue was promoted and funded by Italian American groups and the Knights of Columbus, a conservative, Catholic organization. The town council of Southington voted unanimously to install the Columbus bust on public property in a prominent location in front of a municipal building.

Dozens of people – mostly women – protested silently at the dedication ceremony, holding signs with quotes from Columbus’s own diaries revealing his racist, misogynist and genocidal tendencies. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus was there and spoke with Erica Roggeveen Byrne, co-founder of the group, Southington Women for Progress, which led the opposition to locating the statue on public property. We also hear from Susan Dantino, a local Italian-American woman who came to protest the dedication of the Columbus monument.

ERICA ROGGEVEEN BYRNE: When we found out in July that the town council had approved and that a statue of Columbus was being put up on public property…

BETWEEN THE LINES: Unanimous, right?

ERICA ROGGEVEEN BYRNE: Unanimous, and with very little public input. We, frankly, were kind of shocked that that was going to be happening in 2017, especially given what we now know about Columbus and his actions and how they’ve impacted indigenous people and African Americans through the slave trade. And so we first began with a petition asking that the statue not be put up on town land; they started putting up the statue before we could present the petition to the town council. And so we’ve been working since then trying to mitigate some of the harm that can be done by putting this statue of Columbus up on public property.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Say a little more about the harm…

ERICA ROGGEVEEN BYRNE: We now know from the historical record and from his own diaries, that Columbus was responsible for spearheading genocide of native American people – primarily himself in the Caribbean, but that then spread through the rest of the Americas – and also helped to spearhead the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

BETWEEN THE LINES: It does seem a little anachronistic. I don’t know how many other places are putting up statues of Columbus in 2017. But people know what they want to know, I guess, and the word hasn’t spread.

ERICA ROGGEVEEN BYRNE: Yes, there was a quote from a town council person saying that, “What we learned in school is that Columbus discovered America. That’s what we learned.” And it’s like, yeah, but we keep learning, and we learn more information, and we learn how it impacted people, and maybe we didn’t know that piece of it before.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, now the statue is here. I’m looking at it. It’s got a little walkway. It’s got lovely roses planted all around it; it’s got American flags. It looks pretty permanent. So what is your group’s plan or hope going forward?

BETWEEN THE LINES: That was Erica Roggeveen Byrne, with Southington Women for Progress. Italian American Southington resident Susan Dantino was also there. She said her opposition was not an attack on people of Italian heritage, who revere Columbus as one of them.

SUSAN DANTINO: I believe that this is a national conversation that we need to be having, something we all need to be participating in. And while we want to protect culture, we also want to protect the truth. And I believe that, by his own admission, Columbus participated in and led the annihilation of over three million indigenous people. We believe that this [the statue] is revisionist history. I’m a grandmother. I don’t want my grandchildren learning lies. I want them to know the truth, and we really do support the truth. This is a national conversation that needs to happen, that we don’t celebrate those people who, by their own admission, commit atrocities. If you want to erect a statue then put it in a museum where it can be put into its historic context.

I've worked with an organization for indigenous people for over 15 years now. If I didn’t come out here today, I would really question those 15 years that I spent with an organization that supports our native people. And we’ve done a lot of good in bringing to light the many atrocities suffered by our indigenous people. So, I believe that’s the reason I’m here today.

For more information, visit Southington Women for Progress at southingtonwomenforprogress.org.

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