BY: Nicholas J. Grillo - President Jersey City Columbus Day Parade
After seeing several online petitions circulating calling for the removal of the Jersey City Christopher Columbus Statue and calls to rename Christopher Columbus Drive, Jersey City Columbus Day Parade President, Nicholas J. Grillo and a dozen other local Italian American Leaders sent a letter to the Mayor and Council Members of Jersey City explaining the history behind Columbus Day and Italian American Heritage and demanding a seat at the table should any action of removal be discussed.
Mayor Steven Fulop and City Council Members, I am sending this correspondence on behalf of undersigned leaders of Jersey City Italian American Organizations. I am a member and community leader and organizer within the Jersey City and Greater New Jersey Italian-American community.
I am the President of Jersey City Columbus Day Parade Committee, Co-Chair of the La Festa Italiana Jersey City, Head of Recruitment for the Auxiliary Division of the Italian American Police Society of New Jersey, an active member of Jersey City Dante Alighieri Society, and an active member of the National Italian American Foundation, in addition to many other civic organizations.
I, as my fellow Italian-Americans titled below, love our culture. A big part of celebrating our Italian-American heritage is the observation of Columbus Day. The first recorded celebration of Columbus Day in the United States took place on October 12th, 1792, organized by The Society of St. Tammany, also known as the Columbian Order. It commemorated the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ landing.
On March 14th, 1891, eleven Italian-Americans were lynched in New Orleans. It was the largest mass lynching in America. This horrific and tragic event directly contributed to President Benjamin Harrison's issuance of a
proclamation on October 12th, 1892, encouraging Americans to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus' voyage with patriotic festivities. While Italian-Americans continued to celebrate their heritage on October 12th, Columbus Day did not become a national holiday until 1934 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt designated Columbus Day a federal holiday.
For hundreds of years, millions of Italian-Americans celebrated and honored their heritage through the recognition of Christopher Columbus. While as a nation, we continue to fight against racial injustices and inequalities, we feel that our heritage and culture is under attack right here at home. Petitions to remove monuments and rename streets of Columbus in Jersey City and across our nation aren't just to remove a figurehead. It is a direct blow against Italian-Americans. We recognize Columbus Day as a way to celebrate being Italian and a reminder of how our ancestors overcame racial injustices in America.
We acknowledge the concern from other members of our community about Columbus' actions, which occurred over 500 years ago. Many of our forefathers' pasts are chequered with transgressions as well, but if we do not study our past, we cannot define our future. We can't provide the "cancel culture" an opportunity to attempt to diminish the tremendous efforts Italian-Americans have and continue to make to move our great nation forward. We feel any removal or renaming of Columbus monuments or roadways would do just that.
Our Italian-American organizational leaders, and thousands of members, proudly celebrate and participate in all Jersey City cultural events because we are a community, no matter race, creed, or orientation. It is vital to support one another, especially during these times of uncertainty, as we will all need each other to recover from this public health crisis. We ask you and your administration to ensure that the voice of the Jersey City Italian community is heard before any formal decisions are made. We believe that the greater JC community does not fully grasp the history of Columbus Day in America and what it means to Italian-Americans.
We commend you and your administration for your efforts and energies that continuously move our city forward.
We hope we can all work together to ensure our Italian-American residents continue to be a part of Jersey City.
Nicholas J. Grillo - President – Jersey City Columbus Day Parade & Co-Chair of La Festa Italiana, Jersey City
Anthony L Romano – Freeholder – 5th District of Hudson County
Richard Boggiano – Councilman – Ward C Jersey City
Albert J. Cupo – President – The Dante Alighieri Society
Carla Mastropierro - Italian Educational & Cultural Center at Casa Colombo
Marianne Esposito Costello – President – Dante Alighieri Women’s Auxilliary
Rev. Jurek Zaslona – Pastor – Holy Rosary Church – Jersey City
Philip A. Fusciello & Nicholas Sorrentino – La Festa Italiana, Jersey City
Michael A. Ricciardone – Dante Alighieri Society and Columbus Parade Committee Historian
William Schievella – President of the Italian American Police Society of New Jersey
Crescenzo Fonzo – President - Father R. Yanitelli Chapter of the Sons of Italy of Jersey City
Carmine Colasurdo – President of the Maria SS. Dell’Assunta Society (Founded 1902)
Guy Catrillo – President of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society (Founded 1886)
CC: Joseph A. Panepinto – President & CEO - Panepinto Properties / Honorable Frank J. Guarini
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