The Columbus Day Parade beats the rain as hundreds celebrate Italian heritage

The Columbus Day Parade drew hundreds of proud Italian Americans to the center to celebrate explorers whose place in history has become more controversial over the past few years, both nationally and locally.

The 69th annual parade, organized by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, started Monday afternoon heading south on State Street from Wacker Drive. It ended on Van Buren Street – just before the Chicago area was soaked with rain.

The leader parade was a motorcade of motorcycles and featured floats from prominent Italian Americans in Chicago. It also included the South Shore Drill Team and marchers and dancers representing other countries, including Thailand, Bulgaria and Poland – all dressed in traditional clothing.

Ron Onesti, chairman of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said the day was time to remember and celebrate Christopher Columbus and what his accomplishments mean to Italian Americans. Still, the ongoing moves to replace Columbus Day weighed heavily on him.

“Columbus Day, for us Italian Americans, is a holy day of tradition and honor, and it has been for over 130 years,” Onesti said at the end of the parade. “Today we had our parade against many obstacles. Several other ethnic groups marched with us today to celebrate their heritage. That’s what this day is all about. We celebrated, we reflected, but now the real work begins. ”

Onesti said his organization agrees with the discussion of Columbus, and his legacy should be expanded; he said he is willing to find a middle ground with those concerned about the Italian explorer and his influence.

“More stories about all of our stories need to be told and changes need to be made,” Onesti said. “We want to learn the good, the bad, the ugly truths about our own American history, but what can not be done is to replace what is perceived as a one-sided narrative with another one-sided narrative. We should add facts to the accounts and not subtract them. ”

Onesti said his group is sending out an open invitation to indigenous communities to sit down to talk about finding a solution.

“This is not just an olive branch, we are extending an entire olive tree. We want to get together, ”said Onesti.

The movement to replace Columbus Day with Native American Day has only grown as waves of protests over urban monuments that followed the police killing of George Floyd. Critics of Columbus see him as a representative of genocide, racism, imperialism and slavery.

It is within this context that the Chicago Public Schools decided to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day last year. There was also the decision to remove three Columbus statues in Chicago after intense protests – although the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans is suing the Chicago Park District for returning.

Last year, the city launched Chicago Monuments Project to assess its public statues and monuments, including the Columbus statues. This effort is underway, although the group issued a list of 41 monuments and statues that it considered “problematic”.

Last week, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to postpone a resolution that would permanently change Columbus Day to Indigenous Day. This is the second time this year that a vote on the issue has been delayed.

The ongoing battle over whether to keep or remove Columbus Days from the calendar also made many people think of the parade.

Franco Paliferro created his own Spartacus costume to ride on the float in the Columbus Day parade on Monday afternoon, October 11, 2021.

Franco Paliferro created his own Spartacus costume to ride on a float in the Columbus Day parade on Monday.
Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Franco Paliferro, dressed in a self-made costume by Spartacus, said he was primarily there to support the return of each of the statues where they were. He said Italian Americans should be allowed to have culturally significant statues, as other ethnic groups in the city do.

“I’m a little disappointed that the statues are gone because we never said bad things about other statues, but ours, I do not know why they took it down,” Paliferro said.

Brice Notardonato Ellett, 49, felt the same way.

“Columbus is extremely important, and it’s great that we’re back here to celebrate with people who share my family’s heritage,” Notardonato Ellett said.

Notardonato Ellett said his family has attended almost every Columbus Day Parade over the past two decades. His 16-year-old son Arcangelo Ellett was proud to celebrate his Italian heritage, but disagreed with this father about the importance of Columbus.

The teenager did not like Columbus celebrating Italian heritage, and he did not mind the statues being removed.

“I do not think at all that Columbus represents Italy, and my family may not agree with me, but that’s just the way I feel,” said Arcangelo Ellett. “I’m here today because I’m proud of my Italian heritage, but I do not agree with Columbus.”

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