Two NJ towns nix Columbus Day — Italian groups push back
Italian American groups are working to oppose the trend of renaming Columbus Day around New Jersey.
Princeton joins Newark this year as the first two communities in the state to mark Indigenous Peoples Day on what traditionally has been Columbus Day. Advocates for the newer holiday argue that Columbus' arrival in what's now North America was not actually its discovery, but the start of colonization and the introduction of slavery and disease to the continent.
Princeton's mayor and municipal council passed a resolution that declares the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day in observance of at least three Native American tribes with historic roots in New Jersey, which only recently received official recognition.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka proclaimed the holiday by executive order in 2017.
Ocean County Columbus Day Parade chairman Michael Blandina doesn't think Columbus' name will ever be completely scrubbed from the holiday.
"It's a holiday, it's history and Columbus Day is going to be there forever whether they try to change it or not," he said. "The fact of the matter is they should go make another holiday. I'm not against another individual's holidays, but that's an Italian holiday and we should be keeping it what it is, celebrating Italian heritage and culture."
Blandina said Ocean County Freeholder Joe Vicari and Brick Mayor John Ducey have each told him they will not take any action to rename the holiday.
The annual parade steps off Sunday at 1 p.m. on the Boulevard in Seaside Heights.
The Bloomfield based group Italian American One Voice Coalition argues the renaming is a violation of civil rights worthy of being challenged.
"Millions of Italian Americans celebrate this holiday as part of their culture and have done so for many decades. It is a proud immigrant symbol and statement of inclusion into American society," One Voice's president Dr. Manny Alfano wrote on the organization's website.
The group on Friday also took aim at Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle on its Facebook page for denying permission to fly the Italian flag on Columbus Day while allowing another flag to fly for a month and urged calls and email to her office.
But Brindle told New Jersey 101.5 there is only one flag pole in front of town hall and American Legion protocol prohibits another nation's flag flying along with the American flag.
"I wouldn't fly any nation's flags at town hall" because of the protocol, she said.
"I think what drove it that we flew the Pride flag, which is not a national flag, in April," Brindle said. There has been no discussion about renaming the holiday in Westfield, according to Brindle.
Jeff Hendricks, deputy director of Americanism at the American Legion's national headquarters said that another nation's flag cannot fly on the same flagpole as an American flag unless they are at the same height and the same size.
The flag of a municipality or state are permitted to fly below the U.S. flag, according to Hendricks.
Brindle said the town has also held a "Culture Day" where the flags of cultures in town including Italy, were flown on special flagpoles.
The mayor said she is open to a discussion about the installation of more flagpoles that would available to all groups.
One Voice spokesman Andre’ DiMino said that the protocol could be addressed but did not understand why another group was allowed to fly its flag for an entire month.
"It doesn't matter if its LGBTQ or whether it's Polish or anything else. Why do you favor one group over another? It's just not proper. If there's a protocol that has to be followed we'll follow the protocol. But that's another form of discrimination against Italian-Americans, the one ethnicity it's okay to bash. There's no political correctness when it comes to Italian-Americans," DiMino said.
Messages for the Mercer County Italian American Festival Association and UNICO of Bloomfield Friday had not yet been returned.
Previous reporting by Erin Vogt was used in this report
More from New Jersey 101.5