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Celebrating Italian American Heritage Month
by Francesco Isgro*
Italian Americans throughout the country unofficially celebrate October as Italian American Heritage Month. Although some states and localities, such as New Jersey and Salt Lake City have officially designated October as such, the Federal government has yet to proclaim a National Italian American Heritage Month.
The lack of a federal designation, however, has not impeded enthusiastic celebrations of Italian and Italian American culture across the country this month. Most of the major events naturally focus around Christopher Columbus Day, a national federal holiday. Columbus has been in many ways the unifying figure for the Italian American community.
The city of San Francisco claims the nation's oldest continuously-existing celebration with the Italian-American community's annual Columbus Day Parade, established by Nicola Larco in 1868. The largest such celebration in America is New York City's Columbus Day Parade. In size, Chicago's Columbus Day parade is not far behind.
For the past 36 years in Washington D.C., October has also hosted the National Italian American Foundation's annual convention and gala, attracting U.S. presidents, foreign dignitaries and numerous Italian American celebrities to the event.
This year, for the first time, the 13th Annual Festa Italiana in Washington, D.C. will take place, not in June, but on Sunday, Oct. 9, on the grounds of Holy Rosary and Casa Italiana. On the following day, the official Washington, D.C. Columbus Day ceremonies will be held at the Cristopher Columbus Memorial located in front of Union Station.
Making this October particularly special is the fact that this year marks 150 years of Italy's unification. The occasion offers a chance to reflect on how Italy was united by leaders such as Cavour, Mazzini and Garibaldi and, more broadly, to appreciate Italy's contributions to the arts, literature, sciences and medicine.
To quote a proclamation issued by President Obama: "Bound by enduring values of faith and family, Italian Americans have flourished in all areas of our public and economic life while preserving their proud Italian traditions. . .Italian Americans have persevered with hope and hard work to reach for the American dream and helped build our great country. . .and have defended the liberty and integrity of the United States since the Revolutionary War."
NEW BOOKS ABOUT COLUMBUS
Just in time for Columbus Day celebrations, several new books take a closer look at the adventurer and explorer, while showing that even after more than five centuries, Columbus continues to be a source of fascination. Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem by anthropologist Carol Delaney sets out to prove that Columbus's real motive for setting sail was to conquer Jerusalem. Race to the New World by Douglas Hunter aims to dispel rumors that Columbus and John Cabot were engaged in a race to discover the New World.
Mystery and controversy have always surrounded Columbus, and these books add to the literature that purports to discover the truth. One lingering controversy is whether Columbus was Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or Polish. The answer is clear, according to Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, a Columbus specialist and a Notre Dame professor. As he wrote definitively in the Wall Street Journal: "The incontrovertible evidence is that he was Genoese."
*First published in Voce Italiana, October 2011