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Of Martyrs and Veterans: City Council Navigates Competing Park Monuments

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Union Avenue Park   Photo via Google Maps
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PATERSON, NJ – The City Council on Tuesday night was all ready to approve the Paterson Bengali community’s request to create a cultural monument in a small park on Union Avenue.

That was until the president of the Paterson Veterans Council got up to speak. Years ago, the park had been dedicated as a memorial to Vietnam veterans, said Tony Vancheri.

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“I’m more concerned about the men and women who gave their lives for the United States of America,’’ said Vancheri, who was wearing a red-white-and-blue tie in a flag pattern. The president of the veterans group said he understood the Bengali community’s desire to create its monument. “The problem is that it honors people from a foreign country,’’ he said.

The issue confronted council members with a dilemma. City officials routinely express their pride in Paterson’s multicultural diversity. They also recognize the special role of the city’s veterans.

“We don’t want to do anything that pits the veteran community against the Bengali community,’’ said Councilman Kenneth Morris.

By Wednesday afternoon, a compromise had been reached, officials said. The Bengali monument would be located in Westside Park and the park on Union Avenue would be left to veterans.

“It worked out very well,’’ said Councilman Aslon Goow, who represents the 2nd Ward where both parks are located.

“The spot is even better than what they were looking at,’’ said Council President Anthony Davis.

The Bengali group is looking to construct a “Shahid Minar,’’ or “Martyr’s Monument” in honor of political demonstrators who were killed by police in Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan. Similar monuments are erected in many places in Bangladesh.

Bengali leaders told the city council they thought only one side of the park – which sits on two lots across the street from each other on Union Avenue between Paterson and Manchester avenues  - had been dedicated to veterans. They had planned their monument for a spot on the other side of the street.

At one point Tuesday night, city officials asked Vancheri if he had a problem with the Bengali monument being placed on one side of the street. He wasn’t receptive to the suggestion.

“The next body buried there will be mine,’’ he responded. “I’m not letting anybody put anything there. I’ll have 1,000 veterans there tomorrow.’’

Vancheri then suggested putting the Bengali monument in Westside Park, in the area behind Kennedy High, where the submarine exhibit used to be. Goow and Davis said Bengali community leaders inspected that location on Wednesday and were satisfied with it.

The city council will take its preliminary vote on the Westside Park monument at a special meeting on February 1, officials said.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam Veterans monument no longer remains at the Union Avenue park. It had become a target of vandals there, so the veterans’ council moved it to the veterans park at Haddon Heights, officials said.

But Vancheri said his organization plans to create a tribute to Vietnam veterans at the Union Avenue park sometime in the near future.

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