City Councilors decided to look at possibly changing the name of the grassy area in the middle of Watertown Square, which has been named for Christopher Columbus since 1940.
The Council received a petition from resident Mishy Lesser, on behalf of the Pigsgusset Initiative which seeks to “generate a new name that is more inclusive of all members of our community and the history of the place we now call home,” the petition reads.
On Tuesday night, City Council President Mark Sideris told the packed Council Chamber and those on Zoom, that the process is just beginning.
“The council is not going to be renaming anything tonight, please understand that what’s in front of us is do we want to continue in the process,” Sideris said.
The Council heard more than an hour of comments from the public, both for and against the name change.
Those wanting to see the change cited information about Columbus that has been found since the Delta was named for the explorer, and said that celebrating him dishonors the Indigenous people of the areas he explored, and was part of a tradition that negatively impacted the Native Americans who lived in what is now Watertown and Massachusetts.
Others spoke out against the change, saying that Italian immigrants to Watertown dedicated the Delta to a man they considered a hero, and it was a way of becoming part of American society after many endured discrimination and violence. They said removing Columbus’ name insults Italian Americans and disrespects what previous generations went through.
Speakers debated which historical accounts should be believed, whether the center of Watertown should have a name that resonates with one group of residents or a wider group, and whether changing a name to be more inclusive would exclude one group.
The Council also heard from a person with Indigenous heritage who opposed changing the name, and a few Italian Americans who want to rename the delta.
Some people wanted to know what the new name would be. The petition does not propose a name. Some said they currently called it The Delta, and said that could be an option. Another resident suggested finding a resident of Italian descent, such as Domenick Filippello, who immigrated to town and joined the U.S. military and was killed in World War I. A park on the Eastside of town is named for him.
Ultimately, the Council voted 7-2 to continue exploring a possible name change. The vote placed an item on the June 28 City Council meeting agenda to consider referring it to a Committee to discuss a name change. Sideris and Councilor John Airasian voted “no.”
The Council will follow the naming policy for square and intersection for non-veterans, which was approved by the Council in 2019. Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said he believes the proper Committee to discuss it would be the Public Works Committee.
Councilor Lisa Feltner asked whether the policy covers the situation.
“There are some holes, if you will,” Feltner said. “The policy created in 2019 … it doesn’t really address changing a name, it really addresses creating a new name.”
Sideris said the policy provides a process that the Council can follow.
Feltner said she appreciated the wide range of views from people at the hearing, and she added that she thinks it is important for people to continue to provide input to help the Council make a final decision as the process moves forward.