37th Bronx Columbus Day Parade Draws Thousands

Loretta Zaino McKnight, holding up a banner for the local Italian language program, stood with family and friends during 37th annual Bronx Columbus Day Parade.
Photo by Walter Pofeldt

At the annual Bronx Columbus Day Parade, Gianette Fata put the finishing touches on her traditional Columbus Day family dinner, stopping by Enrico’s Bakery for some zeppole.

A few blocks down a neighbor known as Frankie the Doorman stood at the corner of Morris Park and Barnes avenues, balancing an enormous American flag as marchers passed.

“I’ve been here for 37 years, every year of the parade,” said Frankie, an Italian-American. “I represent my family. My family’s been here 65 years.”

The strangers, much like the thousands of paradegoers, had one thing in common–they’re bounded by tradition, familial bond and love of country.

It was a running theme at the state’s second largest Columbus Day parade, which stepped off Sunday, Oct. 13 at noon in Morris Park. Bronxites and beyond lined up Morris Park Avenue for the festive parade honoring Christopher Columbus, the Italian-born explorer who discovered the Americas in 1492.

Despite recent inquiries into Columbus’ history, 14-year-old Sophia Flocco, a student at Cardinal Spellman High School, overlooked the historical flaws.

“I know he sailed the [ocean] blue, and that he wasn’t the first to find it,” said Flocco. “But I respect that they still give him this day.”

As festive drums banged along the route, groups chanted in unison, while the nasal whine of bagpipes laid the musical soundtrack. To many, it was a chance to reflect on Italian-American triumphs.

“We baptized this country,” noted Raffaele Iodice, referring to America’s namesake–Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

Annette Stabile, a second-generation Italian-American in Pelham Gardens, admires America as a land of opportunity, a lesson she learned from her grandparents, who lived in Italy during Benito Mussolini’s reign. “My grandfather came here, he worked three jobs, and that’s always been a part of me–har work,” said Stabile. “And I credit that a lot to my culture.”

She stood alongside the route, waving to some familiar faces with boyfriend Carmine Torchetti.

“It’s a worldwide festivity today,” said Tony Signorile, the parade’s lead organizer, using his whistle to guide a contingent of floats, marchers, schools and community groups along.

The star of the afternoon was grand marshal Chazz Palminteri, the Belmont-born Hollywood actor known famously for the 1993 film “A Bronx Tale.”

With his wife Janna and kids riding in a Hummer, Palminteri waved and laughed with fans as they peppered him with questions relating to the movie.

“Where’s Coffee Cake?!?” shouted Patricia Chiominto, a Morris Park native, snapping photos while reciting one-liners from the movie.

Not too far along was honorary marshal Lisa Maffei-Fuentes, a seasoned educator. Ironically enough, her career has mostly been at Christopher Columbus High School.

Like the marshals all their own, dozens of groups took part in promoting Italian-American heritage, flashing banners and cheering in support of the Old Country.

The neighborhood is historically Italian-American, with many first-generation immigrants raising families in the largely residential community peppered with pizza shops and bakeries. It’s not one to hide it’s Italian heritage given the large Italy flags embossed along the roadway year-round.

The familiar red, white and green colors may be fading, but neighbors will balk at the suggestion it’s a symbol of a fading Italian presence. More and more cultures have immersed themselves in the neighborhood, as longtime resident Tom Finelli, can see.

“Everybody’s here,” he said, standing in front of Conti’s Pastry Shoppe. “There’s Albanian’s here, there’s Spanish and black. It’s not something the neighborhood’s ashamed of.”

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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