By Lodge Member Frank Mentone
When I was young, I used to ask my father when we could partake in a particular activity that I knew he wasn’t interested in. His answer was always the same. “When Columbus throws the ball down Brown Street,” he would bark. To those who grew up in that neighborhood, that was a standard reply from many fathers. The statue of Christopher Columbus was erected in 1892 in the Wooster Street green. The large monument of Columbus holding the globe, faced Brown Street. That was the old man’s way of telling me it would never happen.
As Catholic children of Italian/American heritage, we grew up with the image of Columbus as our example of a leadership. He was a hero who faced immeasurable odds but still did great things. Like every other human in history he made some bad decisions but he was always an example of what a good Italian man should follow.
I remember from the day school started in September we at Saint Anthony’s, practiced three times a week and even more when it got closer to the day of the Columbus Day Parade. We proudly donned our school uniform and banners and marched down Chapel Street for what seemed like hundreds of miles, to the grandstand in front of the statue. Like dozens of other Catholic schools, we stayed in line with the hopes of taking home the trophy for being the best of our division. It was always a part of our history as we would also learn in class of the navigation and successes of our Italian hero.
We learned songs about the discovery of America. We heard the comic tune of Lou Monte with the crew begging Columbus to “turna the ship around”. Again, it was part of our history.
Years later when we moved to North Branford with our youngsters, our new neighborhood had many Italian families. With schools out and many parents having the day off, the rest of us would call in sick and celebrate our heritage with a big party. Steaks, clams on the grill, wine and liqueurs from the different regions of Italy. The adults played bocce and the kids celebrated with their own games.
As is always the case from time to time, a group of malcontents rises and points out miss truths and exaggerated faults of the man to discredit his accomplishments. My dad always said everyone is out to get a winner.
According to the missionary Bartolomme de las Cesars, Columbus came to the new world in search of gold to fund trips to bring Christianity to the natives. He did not own slaves. They were already there. He did arrest some for violating natural law such as human sacrifices and cannibalism.
The anthropologist Carol Delaney added that Columbus goal was to evangelize the natives. He truly believed he had an obligation to teach the Christian concepts as to pave the way for the return of Christ.
As I write this letter, it is the day we always celebrated the life of this great man. I am saddened by what is taking place and disappointed in myself and others for sitting back and allowing this history to be taken away from future generations.
What is totally discouraging in New Haven is that many neighborhood leaders joined and supported the committee to take down the monument that had been in the green for more than a century. Forgetting their own heritage and the Italian community that supported them and helped them create their successful businesses. They approved of the eradication of our history. Politicians and business people alike were not there to fight to maintain a reminder of their ethnic customs. They turned their backs on the community and bowed to political pressure to appease a small group of people.
It’s sad. That statue should have never come down. When the pressure came from this particular group to remove the statue, the answer should have been a simple one. “We will take the statue down when Columbus throws the ball down Brown Street.