Like so many other major events this year, the city’s annual Columbus Day Parade did not take place, due to the pandemic. But that didn’t stop some smaller celebrations from moving forward to honor Italian heritage and achievement.
“I don’t need this very day to feel proud and to be proud of my heritage,” said a man named Alessandro, who moved from Italy a few years ago to an apartment near Columbus Circle.
The soggy, windy, and chilly weather Monday seemed fitting for a Columbus Day without a parade.
Governor Andrew Cuomo was the grand marshal of a televised virtual celebration, held in place of the traditional parade up 5th Avenue.
Cuomo was on hand for the unveiling of a statue in Battery Park City that he commissioned to honor Mother Frances Cabrini, an Italian-American Catholic nun who assisted many Italians in immigrating to the U.S.
“In this complex world, may this statue serve to remind us of the principles that made us great as a country and as a people,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo identified some of those principles as compassion, acceptance, faith, and love.
Mother Cabrini, who died in 1917, was the first American to be canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. The campaign to honor her gained momentum after a program overseen by First Lady Chirlane McCray to address the lack of statues honoring women omitted Cabrini in its initial round of monuments.
Some New Yorkers who are not Italian hope this new statue will draw positive attention to the contributions of Italians and Italian-Americans, especially in the wake of the ongoing controversy involving the legacy of Christopher Columbus.
"America has a really complicated history and now we’re really trying to grapple with that,” said Jeremy Chrittenden of Washington Heights. “Maybe it’s time to look to the future and maybe some better heroes.”
To protect the famous statue of Columbus from being vandalized at Columbus Circle, barricades and several marked police vehicles have been set up over the past few months.
A woman Lisa, who has Sicilian heritage, admitted she had forgotten it was Columbus Day.
“Between COVID, flying home safely, and this election,” said Lisa, who flew in from San Francisco to see her daughter, who attends Julliard, “I think everything else has sort of receded to the back of our minds, and not really at the forefront. So I guess being here at Columbus Circle, I feel a moment of pride, but mostly it’s all the other stuff that is clouding our conversation, rightly so.”