Is the biggest celebration of American-Italian culture in the world: the Columbus Day parade attracts around a million spectators and 35,000 marchers each year. It’s one of the main events in NYC in the fall.
This year marked the 74th Anniversary of the popular gathering, Fifth Avenue is filled with Italian flags and delegations from the Italian-American and Italian community. Societies members, religious organizations, marching school bands, military delegations, professional musicians, and traditional folk groups perform on their way from Midtown to Upper East Side, creating a joyful atmosphere.
The Columbus Day parade celebrates the boldness and spirit of exploration that motivated Christopher Columbus back in the 15th century to sail across the Atlantic Ocean and open a new world.
At school, we all learned that Columbus sailed the ocean blue … and then American history gets very blurry.
Though much happened before Christopher Columbus’ famous journey (such as Leif Ericsson’s landing in North America about five centuries prior), it remains a significant event in history and is generally deemed by historians as the start of the Colonial Period (1492-1763).
The epic journey was not exactly without holes and bumps.
Early in the morning on Oct. 12, 1492, a sailor looked out to the horizon from the bow of Columbus’ ship, the Pinta, and saw land. After 10 weeks at sea, from the port of Palos, Spain, Columbus, and his crew had arrived … somewhere.
Columbus thought he’d found the East Indies. Truth was, he was in the Bahamas. He did a little more exploring and then returned to Spain, possibly taking syphilis with him.
By 1502, the Florentine merchant and explorer Amerigo Vespucci had figured out that Columbus was wrong, and word of a New World had spread throughout Europe. America was later named for Vespucci.
And, as researchers now recognize, neither man was actually the first to discover the Americas. There were, of course, the natives already here. There was Ericsson. And there were others. Even the Chinese lay claim to sail to the New World first.
Columbus is credited with jumpstarting Spanish colonization that preceded the broader European colonization of the New World. In his diary, he noted that the natives “must be good servants and very intelligent, because I see they repeat very quickly what I tell them.” And so he enslaved them to help in his quest for gold and spices. Neither venture panned out, but in subsequent voyages, thousands of natives died, and Columbus managed to hang some of his own settlers who defied his authority.
His arrival “marked the beginning of one of the cruelest episodes in human history,” as historian Kenneth C. Davis puts it.
More than a century would go by before colonization got serious. The first colony was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. The Pilgrims, founders of Plymouth, Massachusetts, did not arrive until 1620.
All these details are fascinating and intriguing. But whatever way you want to put it, Columbus, Vespucci and the thousands of immigrants from Italy pursuing the American Dream, it is undeniable the positive and fundamental contribution of the Italian community in building Our Country. And that’s what this day is simply about.

Article by Joseph Ralph Fraia

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