Dominic DiFrisco announcing the Columbus Day Parade in 1975.
Updated: November 6, 2012 6:17AM
Monday marks the first time in decades Chicago Public Schools students will attend classes on Columbus Day.
The idea was to give students more time in schools, which is noble (a new policy also terminates Pulaski Day, which honors a Polish-American hero) — but as the president emeritus of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, I’m concerned that it is yet another step in minimizing the importance of Christopher Columbus’ historic 1492 voyage to the “New World.”
A little history: On Jan. 15, 1968, the United States Congress enacted Public Law 90-363. Among the ten legal holidays established was the second Monday in October, which celebrates Columbus.
Over the years, revisionist historians have systematically reduced the universal hero status of Columbus to that of a marauding savage. He is depicted as a disease-carrying slaughterer of the native population. Even his Italian origin is disputed and disparaged. A simple perusal of birth records in Genoa, Italy accurately depicts his birth in 1451. He was and is forever Italian!
Our beloved country would later be baptized with a beautiful Italian name, America, acknowledging explorer Amerigo Vespucci. Such was the impact of Italian navigators that our forefathers named our nation’s capital — Washington D.C. (District of Columbia) — for not only the father of our country, George Washington, but for Christopher Columbus. Cities followed in Georgia, Ohio, and other states, along with institutions including the world-renowned Columbia University in New York City.
The huddled masses of Italy came to America in droves from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. The promised streets of gold became boulevards of despair, hope and back-breaking labor. They endured and their blood, sweat and tears produced the advent of the realization of the American dream.
Other ethnic groups had already staked their claims on America’s culture. The Germans and the Irish celebrated their adopted homes with patriotic and nostalgic events, which honored the past while pointing toward tomorrow. Our main streets saw Von Steuben and St. Patrick’s Day parades and they continue today to manifest ethnic pride and devotion to America. The mosaic, not the melting pot, reflects the beauty and diversity of this sweet land of liberty.
So, the Italians adopted the much-heralded Christopher Columbus as their patron saint in America. Never celebrated in Italy, he was the great Admiral of the Ocean Seas in la bella America. I can only hope that school curriculums will concentrate on the magnitude and historic significance of Christopher Columbus as a giant in world history.
As always, this Columbus Day we’ll celebrate with a parade on Columbus Drive from 12:30 to 2:30 pm. The theme of the parade is “They helped make America Great,” and floats will honor immortals like Enrico Fermi, Guglielmo Marconi, and yes, Frank Sinatra. Parade chairman Vincent Naccarato and Grand Marshall Stella Foster will preside over more than 100 units in the line of march.
The drums will roll and the bugles will blare, but only a few CPS bands will participate, and we will miss the rich diversity they lend to our celebration.
As for the future, the Italian-American community will join hearts and hands with our Polish brothers and sisters as we continue our peaceful but militant campaign to restore these holidays. And like our ancestors, we will endure and continue in our loving quest to make the American pie taste a little like cannoli.
Viva Cristoforo Colombo!
Dominic DiFrisco donated his fee for writing this column to the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans.