Columbus Day in New York
Since it was established in 1929, the Columbus Day is organized by the Columbus Citizens Foundation, a non profit organization in New York City committed to fostering an appreciation of Italian-American heritage and achievement and to raising funds for needy and deserving students. The Foundation is also active in promoting the Italian traditions and the identity values of the Italians residing in the United States and in supporting their integration with other cultural traditions.
The Parade is an extraordinary event with floats, traditions, personalities, a great spectacle and crowd. This great and colored (green, white and red!) procession parades joyfully down 5th Avenue before millions of spectators watching it on TV from all over the world.
It's a celebration of the Italian and European spirit of re-birth, progress and exploration that propelled Christopher Columbus' world changing explorations.
Music, folk groups, floats and a celebration of the achievements and commitment of Italian companies and associations of Italians and Italo-Americans animate the Parade which is held traditionally on the second Monday of October. The Columbus Day honors the sacrifices and labors of people who helped build America from the ground up and celebrates the vibrant, colorful traditions of the Italian-American community.
Many Italians consider Columbus Day little more than an anniversary and a parade. For some politicians and managers it is simply an excuse for a trip to New York. But for the Italo-American community, Columbus Day is much more - for the organizers, for the public and for the participants, it is the culmination of a year of waiting, trepidation and work. It's no surprise that the 2006 Columbus Day Parade saw 35,000 participants marching for five kilometers in front of nearly one million people.
But the Parade is not merely a party, it is also an opportunity for the Italo-American community to pay tribute to the bonds that link Italy and America, a friendship that goes back a long way, to the times when the States were not yet United and independence was a dream held by a mere few. In fact, the Garibaldi Guard, which after almost 150 years still celebrates the participation of Italians in the American Civil War, is always present. As professor Luongo reminds, "Obviously, they firmly believed in the country which gave hospitality to them, to the point of signing up to fight."
General Peter Pace, a Grand Marshal of the Parade, stressed: "We inherited a lot from our fathers, and to be part of a tradition that has been handed down for generations and to have the opportunity to support it and to hand it down to our children and grandchildren is a great blessing."
There are also other major initiatives on Columbus Day. Columbus Week, which takes place every year in the period around Columbus Day, aims to highlight the contribution of Italo-Americans, nowadays a community of about 20 million people, to the history and culture of the United States of America.
New York Central Station, a masterpiece of Beaux Arts style, dates to 1913, and contains the famous Vanderbilt Hall, with its golden ceiling lamps and pink marble floors. It is an exhibition space of 1.115 square meters, with 15-meter high ceilings. Every day, more than 500,000 people pass through. In 2006, between 3 and 12 October, more than 2.5 million people visited the "Made in Italy" exhibition, with contributions from the regions of Lombardy and Campania. In 2005, the Vanderbilt Hall hosted an exhibition telling the history of the Supreme Court of Justice. In 2004 there was an exhibition telling the life of Mario Andretti, the legendary racing driver and Parade Grand Marshal, who arrived as a migrant and rose to become world champion.
In 2003 the aircraft carrier Intrepid, now a floating museum, hosted an exhibition on Italian futurist painting, and another on aviation ("Wings of Italy"). Afterwards, the Region of Sicily presented itself in the Rockfeller Centre's Channel Garden, which had been transformed into an Italian garden with lights, color, music and dance. Then events moved onto Times Square, which had been decorated as an Italian square, in an initiative organized in collaboration with the Region of Lazio.
Every year, a commemoration to the State's ancestors and servants, from the Police Force to the Fire Brigade, is held in front of the monument to Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle. In 2006 Mr. Richard Greco Jr. MP, Undersecretary of the Navy, said: "No love is greater than that shown by someone who sacrifices his life for his friends".
Columbus Week is also an occasion to collect the thoughts of the young and olds.
Maria Bartiromo, American TV's most-followed financial journalist, feels greats affection towards Italy and is proud to be Italo-American. She says: "My family believed a lot in the ethical value of work. I was planning to go and work in an investment bank, but my mother told me with a smile: Why don't you try journalism? I think you'll be good at it". And it was a Sicilian mum's happy intuition, as we say." Thus she commented on her television report of the Parade.
The legendary Wall Street financer Joseph Perella talks about his grandfather who arrived in America in the Thirties and worked in a country club, thinking, rightly, that because of the Great Depression he had to find a job where people were still able to enjoy themselves. Thanks to the "migrants' remittances", as the Italians called the savings that arrived each year from America, Perella's father was able to study for his research doctorate in Economics and leave for the States. "These are the values of our tradition, which showed me the way". Joseph Moglia's family came from Lombardy. From the age of 11 until his retirement his father worked in a greengrocer's; his mother always had a smile for her family. Now he is CEO at TDAmeritrade.
The President of Campania Regional Council, Mr. Lonardo, also talked about his grandparents and their life in the United States. The Vice-President of Lombardy Regional Council, Mr. Lucchini, was keen to highlight that the exhibition at Vanderbilt Hall demonstrated to all Americans and Italo-Americans, the will and ability of the two Regions to work together, not only for themselves but also for the whole of Italy. Luis Tallarini, President of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, reminded everyone of the humanitarian objectives of Columbus Week, which allows many young, needy Italo-Americans to enter college and thus get a wider perspective on the world of culture and work.
The Foundation has historic roots: in 1929 the Columbus Citizens Committee, formed by a dozen people of Italian origin, organized the first Columbus Day Parade in New York. As the years went on the Committee grew, and in 1944 the Columbus Citizens Foundation was born. From that moment things changed - the Parade produced the Columbus Week and philanthropic efforts were focused on educating young needy people.
In 1967 the Foundation bought from the Swedish Government its current seat, and the number of members increased to 500 people. Originally, only one or two students got a scholarship; in the Eighties there were about a dozen, then nearly 750. Today there are more than 850, and over the next few years the Foundation aims to further increase the number of scholarships available. The Foundation is also active in providing humanitarian support in cases of natural disaster, for families of those killed or missing in action, and for those with social or medical needs.