MILFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Weeks after the Christopher Columbus statue in New Haven’s Wooster Square came down amidst some violent protests, there’s now a billboard along Interstate 95 highlighting what posters call “the first Italian American.”
Louis D’Amato put up the billboard on the northbound side of the highway in Milford.
The Italian-American commercial builder said he understands both sides of the debate over Columbus’s legacy. For some, it’s a point of pride for their heritage. For others, it’s a controversial figure who engaged in and enabled the destruction of indigenous Americans.
D’Amato said he believes all of it should be remembered, adding that he wasn’t trying to inflame the debate.
“You weren’t trying to be provocative or anything?” asked News 8 reporter Sabina Kuriakose.
“No. I understand the issues here,” said D’Amato. “I think the things he did outweigh the bad things that happened. And there were bad things that happened, but it was the nature of things in those days. This is an eye-opener for the Italian American community. Let’s talk about this situation. Let’s not let it pass us by.”
D’Amato said the billboard is a bit tongue-in-cheek. He said he wanted to promote local Italian restaurants —many of which are his tenants.
Over in Wooster Square, where the Columbus statue came down amid massive protest last month, people were circumspect—leery of revisiting the open wound.
With a block now over on Wooster Street, a group of Italian Americans applauded the billboard’s message.
“It was electrifying,” said Peter Criscuolo. “It was nice to see a good thing. Nothing bad, no foul language on the billboard, no knocking another race, creed, color, or religion. Just a good billboard to make people aware.”
The statue in Wooster Square is destined for the Knights of Columbus Museum. Meanwhile, the city has said that it’s planning to work with its Italian American partners to figure out a different way to honor their contributions to our community.