After an afternoon of talking, dancing, and eating in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, New Haven social-justice advocates marched from Mill Street to the corner of Blatchley and Grand Avenue. Over the stoplight they strung up a Christopher Columbus piñata, and over the Christopher Columbus Family Academy sign they taped a banner that read “Mantowese School,” unofficially rechristening the elementary school after a Quinnipiac tribal chief.
That combination of celebration and protest took place in Fair Haven Saturday.
Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA) organized the event alongside La Red de Pueblos Transnacionales, a New York-based group that sponsors exchange between North and South America.
At 2 p.m. attendees began to trickle into a gathering space on Mill Street, where members of ULA had been preparing an art display.
The purpose was twofold: To celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, an alternative to Columbus Day, in part by recognizing the indigenous roots of Latinx communities. And to launch a campaign to rename Christopher Columbus Family Academy. The group has started a petition campaign for the renaming, arguing that a New Haven school shouldn’t be named after someone who brutalized and murdered indigenous people.
So far, the group members settled on “Mantowese School,” although they are open to other suggestions.
“We need to remember who we are,” said Angel Lion Heart Ortiz, liaison officer of the United Confederation of Taino People. “We are trying to remember our songs, remember our dances, remember our way of life.”
Attendees chatted over the potluck food they brought, including chile quemado de puerco that Javiear Rodriguez Coapio, Alberto Romero Polvo, and Yazmin Rodriguez Rodriguez prepared.
ULA organizer John Lugo, Norman Momowetu Clement, a Party for Socialism and Liberation member of Quinnipiac and Penobscot descent, and Fernando Valencia, a member of Pueblos Transnacionales, made speeches.
“We talk about how we want to decolonize, and part of decolonizing is not believing the white supremacist narrative of who we are,” Clement said. “Later we’ll go over to the school and talk about what happened in 1492, when Cristobal Colón was found, lost at sea, needing help from us. That was the start of this white supremacist narrative.”
Clement later beat his drum, in front of symbolic kites, to a dance called “Torito” by a group from Teopantlan, Puebla, Mexico…
... and a group called Ñani Migrante from San Jeronima, Puebla also performed…
...as did Hermanas y Hermanos Abriendo Camino from Tlaxcala, the original home of many of New Haven’s newer Mexican-American immigrants.
At 6 p.m., a group of fifty or so began to march toward Blatchley, holding signs and burning sage…
“I feel like we should really know the reasons we’re here, and why we have this beautiful land,” said Carlos Romario, who carried the sage at the front of the crowd with Lluvia Gonzalez. “Before the pilgrims came, before Columbus came, this was already here. I want people to know that Columbus didn’t discover anything.”
Upon reaching Christopher Columbus Family Academy, the marchers strung up a paper mache Columbus, who floated above the crowd with bloody hands while Lugo and Clement spoke once more, and Ortiz offered a Taino blessing.
Then Cosobi Mendoz and other children took a stick to Columbus’ piñata …
... and the group taped a new name over the school’s sign.
“Not only do we fight,” Ortiz said. “We stand firm to perform our ceremonies, to perform our dances, to perform our prayers, to gather as a community.”