By Kelly White
The Chicago City Council has designated October as Italian American Heritage and Culture Month.
“Our city’s Italian-American community is a part of what makes Chicago so culturally rich, and its families, small businesses, and multi-generational roots add to the beauty of the 25th Ward,” Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said.
For the president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans (JCCIA), Ron Onesti, Italian-American heritage and culture continue at the heart of the city and deserve an honorary month celebrating pride and tradition.
“As generations continue to age and new generations are created, our concern is that the essence of our community becomes diluted,” Onesti said. “The contributions our grandparents and great-grandparents made to the development of this City cannot be forgotten. The memory of those who came before us and the values that they instilled in us need to be protected for generations to come.”
The beauty Sigcho-Lopez referenced spreads throughout Chicago, according to Gabriel Piemonte, founder and president of the Italian-American Heritage Society of Chicago, who said he was grateful for the designated month of cultural celebration.
“This will bring more of our culture into the neighborhoods like how it used to be,” Piemonte said. “It provides an opportunity to start to highlight the full story of our presence in the city and the contributions we have made.”
City Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) led the push for Italian American Heritage and Culture Month.
“Italian-Americans have contributed a lot to American history,” Sposato said. “We have strong family values, great work ethic, and amazing food. It’s about being proud of our heritage and proud of our culture. However, it’s not only about being proud to be Italian; it’s also about being proud to be an American.”
As with many other cultural recognitions throughout the calendar year, Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month ranks as honorary, Sposato said.
Nevertheless, officials tentatively are planning a Columbus Day parade on Columbus Drive on Columbus Day, this year falling on Monday, Oct. 11, thanks to Onesti and the JCCIA, the organization serving as a driving force behind the effort.
Founded in 1952, the JCCIA serves as a congress for Chicago area Italian American organizations and represents the Italian-American community on the local, state, national, and international levels. The organization is dedicated to its heritage and promoting the Italian-American community.
As of this writing, Sposato could not confirm the parade definitely will take place, but Onesti believes it will.
If the parade does occur, the route will begin at the corner of State Street and Wacker Drive and continue down Wacker Drive to Van Buren Street.
“The exact start time is still being finalized with the City, but likely it will be around noon,” Onesti said.
Onesti wants to include the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in the day’s events.
The shrine, located at 1224 W. Lexington St., will hold a Mass on Columbus Day morning followed by a wreath laying ceremony at the former site of the Columbus statue at Arrigo Park.
With coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions and regulations changing day to day due to evolving variants, shrine officials said they cannot promise their participation yet but are more than open to participating in broader Columbus Day festivities.
It remains difficult to predict that far ahead at this time, a shrine spokesperson said.
“As a country, we need to come together and broaden our heritage,” Onesti said. “All other ethnic groups, along with Italian-Americans, need to be respected and honored.”
Aside from the JCCIA, Onesti has many ties to Italian-American organizations nationwide and locally, as the newly elected president of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, a director of Casa Italia, and a director of the Italian American War Veterans Museum.
Onesti was among the speakers at the JCCIA’s Italian Unity Day on July 25 at Arrigo Park at 801 S. Loomis St.
The date marked exactly one year after the City removed a statue of Christopher Columbus from Arrigo Park, in response to demonstrations that became unsafe for both protesters and police. The removal created tension between the City and some Italian-Americans.
“The defacement of the statues that took place felt like a personal attack on Italian-American culture,” Sposato said.
JCCIA members and some City officials felt equally angered when the City also removed Columbus statues from Grant Park and from the South Chicago neighborhood.
On July 22, the JCCIA filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Chancery Division and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office against the Chicago Park District in an effort to restore the Arrigo Park Columbus statue to the park.
For the Italian American Heritage Society of Chicago, log on to www.italianheritagechicago.org. For the JCCIA, log on to www.jccia.com. For the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, call (312) 421-3757. To contact Sigcho-Lopez’s office, call (773) 523-4100. For Sposato’s office, call (773) 283-3838.