The people of New York spoke loud and clear: when the city asked them which women should be honored in perpetuity with a government sanctioned statue, the overwhelming favorite was Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini.
For reasons that are apparently too classified for City Hall to divulge, Mayor de Blasio’s administration ignored the results of the poll they commissioned in an about-face that can only be described as extremely insulting to the patron saint of immigration and the millions of Italian Americans and Catholics who revere her.
However it’s a testament to her everlasting influence and legacy that Governor Cuomo has proudly volunteered to assemble a State Commission to work with the Columbus Citizens Foundation and the Diocese of Brooklyn to build a Mother Cabrini Statue in New York City as quickly as possible.
Of the city’s 150 statues, only five of them are of women. This is certainly a travesty that needs to be corrected, and the people of New York were right to overwhelmingly select Mother Cabrini as the first to be immortalized.
She is the embodiment of New York values and a unifying symbol. She founded some 70 schools, hospitals and orphanages dedicated to caring for the city’s poor, sick and unwanted. Today, New York’s 700,000 Italian-Americans — and any immigrant who has sought refuge in this great city — owe her a debt of gratitude.
I’m still scratching my head over First Lady Charlene McCray’s decision to spearhead an initiative to involve the public in the decision, only to disrespectfully cast aside their votes to honor an icon who aided the huddled masses of poor and vulnerable immigrants on their journey through Ellis Island to American citizenship. It’s a clear implicit bias.
However, I agree with Governor Cuomo when he says it’s more important to correct this injustice than to dwell on this slight to one of New York’s most important immigrant groups.
Few ethnic groups have immigrated in bigger numbers to this city to escape oppression and poverty than Italians. And I applaud Governor Cuomo for standing up for our shared heritage, and the heritage of New York’s massive Italian-American community.
The Statue of Liberty is the first thing our ancestors saw when coming to America, and now a monument to Mother Cabrini will grace the shores of Manhattan in the shadow of Lady Liberty, and remind future generations of this country’s promise.
Mother Cabrini represents the core values of this great city of immigrants — and New Yorkers overwhelmingly selected her as their top choice to be honored. The city ignored their wishes but thanks to the state, a wrong has been righted and soon a statue of Cabrini will stand as tall as her legacy.
(Chazz Palminteri is an actor, screenwriter, producer and playwright.)