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New London updates its heritage

Italian Heritage Day (and month) and Native American Heritage Month. Now that's better.

Monday's unanimous vote by the New London City Council to observe Italian Heritage Day instead of Columbus Day wisely separates the contributions of one of history's great cultures and the local impact of people of Italian descent from the actions of a deeply flawed figurehead who had stood for both. Christopher Columbus can never disappear from the history books, but going forward there will be an asterisk. You can't asterisk a statue, and it is no longer tenable to celebrate an asterisked holiday.

Heritage is lasting, but it is not static. The City Council did well to recognize what had become tarnished and whose history was being overlooked.

The resolution puts the council's stamp on the decision by the mayor to take down the Columbus statue at Bank and Howard streets before it could be toppled, as happened in other cities. The vote also joins city government with the public schools in recognizing the role of the region's first inhabitants. The schools have been observing Indigenous Peoples Day in October for several years. In its resolution, the council declared November Native American Heritage Month. And while it might be tidier to celebrate the same event by the same name at the same time, what's the harm in spreading the observance around? If the pandemic has taught us anything, it should be not to get hung up on the small stuff.

Many in the city's Italian-American community showed a public-spirited and pragmatic response last summer when Mayor Michael Passero, who is one of their own, had the statue removed. Their acceptance of the modern awareness that the explorer was also an exploiter, and worse, laid the groundwork for the council's action. Though they may have been disappointed at losing a familiar symbol of their parents' and grandparents' contributions to their adopted city, they recognized that Columbus wasn't what their ancestors took him to be.

Freshman City Councilor Curtis Goodwin, who spearheaded the resolutions, said Monday that the council action ought to provide a source of unity and healing for the community. In effect he reminded the council and the public that the point of civic and community observance should be a sense of unity.

That is another way of saying that when the old story is clearly not the whole truth, the heritage is not entirely what we thought. A statue or other symbol erected to recall great deeds becomes instead a half-truth, not deserving of its place of honor.

While it's accurate, as some have pointed out, that a resolution lacks the force of an ordinance and is really just a statement that the councilors could agree upon, that is like saying that a statue doesn't matter because it just stands there. The resolution is on the books now, and that means New London is moving forward, acknowledging more of its heritage and its constituency.

Goodwin, the freshman, entered public life 10 years ago as a founder of the New London Youth Talent Show. Along with others, he has a goal of making leadership reflect the community. The now multi-ethnic, multi-racial New London council, is well positioned to represent those it serves.

It may be hard for New Londoners to see from the midst of the day-to-day scramble, but the resiliency and openness of this city should not be underestimated. Its diversity is its strength, even if a consensus is usually hard to find. Kudos to the council for finding this one.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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