Article written by Brian M. Johnson, Bristol Press 10/10/2022
SOUTHINGTON – Town residents, led by local Italian heritage organizations, gathered at the Christopher Columbus statue at the Municipal Center Monday in celebration of Columbus Day.
More than two-dozen residents gathered around the statue to celebrate Columbus’ voyage of discovery in 1492. Mums were placed at the base of the statue and later in planters on Columbus Boulevard in honor of the holiday.
The celebration began with the Pledge of Allegiance, after which several speakers addressed the significance of Columbus. Speakers included Sons of Italy President Tony Cusano, Clementina Mennone, president of Sorelle D’Italia in America, Bill Lombardi, president of UNICO, Paul Rescsanski, past financial secretary with the Knights of Columbus and Victoria Triano, chair of the Southington Town Council. Town Council member Mike Del Santo was also in attendance.
Cusano thanked all those who came out that morning for the celebration and wished them all “a great Columbus Day.” He also spoke to the historical significance of Columbus and addressed those who would criticize him.
“Columbus is, without question, an important historical figure,” said Cusano. “His voyage of discovery in 1492 is one of the greatest events in world history. He sailed across an uncharted Atlantic with three trading ships as a navigator and explorer to set up new trade routes, not as a conqueror.”
Cusano said that Columbus was named one of the two most important people who lived in the past 1,000 years in a 1997 edition of Life Magazine. His discovery of the Americas was also ranked as one of the two most notable events.
“With a ranking and national recognition of Columbus that high, one can begin to understand why Italian Americans would have a difficult time coming up with a replacement – nor should we have to,” he said. “Italian-Americans view Columbus as one of their own, whose voyages led to the creation of America. The celebration of Columbus Day is an acknowledgement to the millions of Americans of Italian heritage and the legacy of generations of Italian Americans who helped shape our nation.”
Cusano said that while “non-Italians may not understand the importance of Columbus Day to Italian-Americans”, they “cannot deny he played an important role in history and is widely celebrated by millions of Americans nationwide.”
“Italian-Americans are proud that it was an Italian explorer from Genoa, Italy that discovered the new continent for Europe,” he said. “While others have claimed to have discovered America before Columbus, they did not leave a record of historical significance. Although inhabited, the New World was a discovery to the rest of the world. To say it was not a discovery is like saying that a gold miner does not discover gold in the ground because it was already there.”
Cusano said that there have been many “myths and misrepresentations” made about Columbus and that he deserves an “honest representation” in history.
“No one would condone the actions of these myths with today’s standards, nor should we judge history by today’s standards,” he said. “History is what it is – history. History cannot and should not be sanitized. When history becomes sanitized, there is no real history for our future generations to learn from. History tells us what was good, what was bad at times and what was ugly. History tells us where we came from and what we have accomplished.”
Cusano said that “taking down statues of different meanings is not the answer.”
“The statues are just a symbol of significant history and they should be used to honor our history and educate our future generations,” he said. “I am proud to be an Italian-American. I feel privileged to live in the United States of American and I am proud to celebrate Columbus Day with all of you today. May all of you enjoy the rest of your holiday.”
Mennone thanked those who made the statue possible. She said that Columbus Day honors not only Columbus, but also the contributions of Italian-Americans to art, science and discovery.
“Today we honor Christopher Columbus and take much pride in his deeds,” she said. “As Italian-Americans, we respect those who came before us and we hope that we will continue to do great things for many generations to come.”
Lombardi said that Columbus Day honors Columbus’ bravery as an explorer.
“Whether we’re going to Mars of to the depths of the ocean or trying to discover a cure for cancer, that is the same spirit that he had,” said Lombardi.
Lombardi said that he has “had enough” of people trying to “vilify” Columbus.
“FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) was a great war leader – are we going to vilify him because he authorized the internment of the Japanese?” said Lombardi. “He was still a great American. I’m also very upset that they took down the Teddy Roosevelt statue from the American Museum of Natural History. He was a great conservationist. Censorship is at our doorstep and so is Communism. My wife was born in Cuba and knows first-hand why that is not good.”
Rescsanski said that the Knights of Columbus are glad to be able to celebrate Columbus Day with the community.
“We hope that we can continue to gather on this great day and celebrate the legacy of the discovery of America,” he said.
Triano said that when Italian-Americans first came to Southington, things were not easy for them. But, they continued to fight to bring honor to Italian Heritage. She said that the fact that the Christopher Columbus statue is still standing is evidence of “why it’s important who you vote for.”
“We were fortunately in the right position to ensure that the rights of every citizen were protected,” said Triano. “We will continue to stand for what’s right, even when it is controversial. God bless America and God bless Christopher Columbus.”
The statue was erected in 2017, following a unanimous vote of approval by the Town Council at the time. Fundraising was led by the late Dick Fortunato and supported by donations from the Joe & Kay Calvanese Foundation, the Knights of Columbus, Sorelle d’Italia, Southington Unico and The Sons of Italy.
In 2020, the statue was protested by some residents. That year, the Town Council voted along party lines to preserve it with Republicans voting in favor of keeping the statue and Democrats voting for its removal.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.