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Aldermen designate October as ‘Italian American Heritage and Culture Month’

“From music to meatballs and everything in between, Italians have contributed much to what this city and this country is all about,” said Ron Onesti, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian-Americans.

The Columbus Day Parade travels down North State Street from East Lake Street on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018.
The 2018 Columbus Day Parade.
Sun-Times file

Chicago aldermen agreed Wednesday to designate October as “Italian American Heritage and Culture Month,” thanks to a resolution one civic leader said is sorely needed to begin a “healing” process.

Ron Onesti, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian-Americans, made no mention of the specific wounds he believes need to be healed.

But members of the City Council’s Committee on Special Events, chaired by Italian-American Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), were well aware of the hurts Italian-Americans say they have suffered in recent years and months.

• Chicago Public Schools’ decision to designate Columbus Day as “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

• A failed proposal to rename Balbo Drive in honor of Ida B. Wells (Congress Parkway was eventually renamed for Wells).

• The midnight removal of two statues of Christopher Columbus.

City crews removed the Christopher Columbus statue from its pedestal in Grant Park in July 2020.
City crews removed the Christopher Columbus statue from its pedestal in Grant Park in July 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Onesti noted Italian-Americans have made countless contributions since their arrival in Chicago in the 19th century.

“Music, culinary arts, science, dance, sports, architecture, paintings, medicine, sculpture, fashion, government. From music to meatballs and everything in between, Italians have contributed much to what this city and this country is all about,” Onesti said.

“But more importantly, I’m here to underscore the important symbolism this resolution would represent. … We truly believe initiatives such as this are part of a larger effort to begin the healing our severely-bruised city so desperately needs.”

The only way to “get back to a more loving, sensitive and productive society” is to recognize every group “woven into the fabric” of Chicago, Onesti said.

“We, the Italian-American community of Chicago, so desperately want to be a part of that healing process,” he said.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) said he is proud to join Sposato in co-sponsoring the resolution.

“It’s not only the festivals. It’s not only the music and the meatballs. We also have Dr. Fermi, Mother Cabrini. So many other Italians that have contributed to society here,” Thompson said.

“As the great-grandson of Italian immigrants who came here from Capistrano, Italy, I’m very proud. I know Grandma … would be very proud of me to be sponsoring this.”

Last summer, Lightfoot ordered two statues of Christopher Columbus “temporarily” removed in the middle of the night based on information that something bad was about to happen.

At the same time, the mayor argued, statues of Columbus in Grant and Arrigo Parks that had been vandalized repeatedly since the death of George Floyd should not be torn down, but rather used to confront the nation’s history and trigger a “reckoning” that’s long-overdue.

City Hall then launched the Monuments Project, and created an advisory committee to conduct a comprehensive review of more than 500 Chicago statues and monuments, with an eye toward identifying those that were offensive, problematic or not representative of city’s values of equity and justice.

To the chagrin of Onesti and other Italian-American civic leaders, the Columbus statutes have yet to be returned to their pedestals.

A fence with the U.S. and Italian flags cover the area where a Christopher Columbus statue once stood at Arrigo Park in Little Italy on Oct. 8, 2020.
A fence with the U.S. and Italian flags are shown in October, covering the area where a Christopher Columbus statue once stood in Arrigo Park.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file photo