Frank Fusaro (President - Columbus Citizens Foundation)

Columbus Day: in scena l’orgoglio italoamericano

Apr 12, 2013 3637 ITA ENG

October is Italian Heritage Month in the USA, with festivals and parades organized all over the country to celebrate it. The most important and without a doubt most popular of these events is Manhattan’s Columbus Day, organized by the Columbus Citizens Foundation. We have the honor and pleasure of talking with Frank Fusaro, Chairman of the Foundation.

What are the history, mission and main activities of the Columbus Citizens Foundation?

The Columbus Foundation was founded 72 years ago, by a group of businessmen, lawyers, doctors and professors of Italian-American origin who came together to celebrate their pride and love for Italy with a parade on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Today we have 600 members, of Italian ancestry who are all highly successful professionals in their field.

Our mission is both cultural and philanthropic. We honor and promote the culture, history, family values and heritage of Italians and Italian-Americans which we were so blessed to have received. The first Italians to arrive here in great numbers came to this country seeking opportunity and a better life for their children. They accepted the most menial jobs and lived in very confined spaces in the same neighborhoods, such as Little Italy or East Harlem in Manhattan, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx or Red Hook in Brooklyn. They made great sacrifices and endured much prejudices in the hope that their children could share in the American dream. The fruits of those sacrifices were     realized with the great success of their children and grandchildren who now have taken their rightful place in the building of America. The Columbus Foundation works to promulgate and preserve our rich history and to honor those that made our success possible. 

Italy’s contribution to the world through the arts, science, and engineering, is greater than that of any other country in the world. It is our mission to insure that the genius of the Italian people is not lost with the passage of time. We acknowledge our good fortune for the possibilities that were provided to us through thee sacrifices of those Italians who came before us and we honor them by fighting the stereotypes that unjustly affect our community. 

As part of our philanthropic work, every year we provide well over two million dollars in scholarship assistance to approximately 550 Italian-American children who have the ability but not the means to attend the best schools in America.

Aside from developing educational programs, our cultural activities include visits to museums hosting exhibitions of Italian art. We also provide funding for Italian artists to enable them to study in America to improve their talent.

We were a leading force in concert with the Italian government in fighting for the reinstatement of the Italian language in the Advanced Placement Program at high schools across America. The reinstatement of this program that had been discontinued by the College Board, will insure that the Italian language and culture will be part of the high school experience for generations to come

What events do you organize in New York for Columbus Day in October, and how many people take part?

The New York Columbus events take place over a week in October each year. The opening event is a gala evening at the Waldorf Astoria with over 1.000 attendants each year. On the Sunday following the Gala we help organize a ceremony at Columbus Circle in Manhattan honoring  Italian-American policemen, firemen and workers in the municipal and emergency public services.

The day after, Columbus Day in the United States begins with Mass held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and celebrated by the Archbishop of New York. The parade which is the world’s largest celebration of Italian pride, heritage and culture immediately follows Mass. The parade which takes place along Fifth Avenue lasts between four to five hours and is broadcast live on the WABC channel. Approximately forty thousand people march in the Parade together with bands, floats and contingents from various institutions and associations. It is cheered by over a million spectators on the streets.

We are intrigued by the figure of the Great Marshal, the parade’s master of ceremonies …

Some of our Great Marshals in the past were famous celebrities, such as Frank Sinatra, Joe Di Maggio, Sofia Loren, Mario Cuomo, Rudolph Giuliani Tony Bennet Joe DiMaggio and many others. However in recent years we have selected individuals who are the real heroes of our time. Individuals who have distinguished themselves in the world of philanthropy. People such as Mario Gabelli, Ken Langone, Joe Plumeri, Alberto Cribiore, who have done great acts of charity, each of whom came from very little and with great personal sacrifice and determination rose to the top of American Industry. These are Italian-Americans who with great pride and thankfulness for their heritage have made countless donations to those in need.

We believe Italians abroad to be a fantastic resource for our country, but they are not as appreciated and valued as they should be. You are one of them: what do you think Italy should do to improve this situation?

The first step is to support and promote the great contributions of Italy to the world here in America. To the extent possible, Italy should promote its art, culture, beauty, regions and monuments through television and other media.  

The Italians who arrived here in the great immigration at the beginning of the last century were among the people who materially built America, However, as great as they were and in lacking formal education, they did not represent the Italian excellence in the arts, science and culture did not travel here with them. So Americans who have never been to Italy have great difficulty in appreciating all the incredible contributions Italy has made to the world. By highlighting these accomplishments and showcasing your creativity and genius you would educate both Italian-Americans and others to the accomplishments of your country. This would help to fight the negative stereotypes that are often used to describe us. This is what we are doing with the parade by showing a small part of the beauty of Italy and of the numerous historical and cultural achievements that those in our country should be made aware. 

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