October is Italian Heritage Month; you may or may not be aware of this depending on which media sources you follow. This year, preceding Columbus Day, there was a controversy which wound up spilling into New York’s Columbus Day parade and ignited an unprecedented movement by New York’s still-vibrant Italian American community.
The seemingly well-intentioned campaign spawned by New York City’s First Lady called She Built NYC, which refers to itself as : “a public-arts campaign that honors pioneering women by installing monuments that celebrate their extraordinary contributions to the city and beyond,” wound up waking up a sleeping giant that many in New York forgot was there, Italian American Catholic pride.
This year’s She Built NYC campaign had 320 women nominated, amongst whom was Mother Frances Cabrini, a female Catholic Saint who was the first naturalized U.S. citizen to be canonized. Mother Cabrini, who will be the subject of an upcoming blog post from our society, helped countless immigrants in America and is credited with establishing at least 67 institutions such as churches, schools, hospitals and orphanages. Mother Cabrini’s work in New York spanned all five boroughs and beyond.
Despite Cabrini having the most votes, the She Built NYC campaign shrugged it off and elected their own winner instead. This infuriated New York’s Catholic community, specifically Italian Americans. The response was swift and deliberate. The Columbus Citizen’s Foundation accommodated a float with a statue of Mother Cabrini that was provided with support from the Archdioceses of Brooklyn and parishioners of Sacred Hearts and Saint Stephen in Brooklyn’s Italian enclave of Carroll Gardens. Italian Americans were overjoyed to see the float make its way down 5th avenue with Mother Cabrini proudly displayed not only out of love and devotion for the saint, but in defiance of the fashion in which the voting process was shamefully cast aside.
The controversy brought out more Italians than usual in what amounted to a record number of parade participants and onlookers in recent history.
There were many organizations and societies marching in the parade this year which included the ISDA (Italian Sons and Daughters of America) whose accompaniments included an entourage from The Italian American Podcast. Also notably in attendance and marching were members of the Italian American Baseball Foundation.
The history of Columbus Day in America is a de facto celebration of Italian American contributions to our beloved country. Such contributions are impossible to fully detail but their immensity and ubiquity render the dismantling of this holiday a terrible slight to the values and hard work that not only built America but also preserved it with the blood of young Italian Americans in World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, and Afghanistan.
By: Raymond Guarini