SEASIDE HEIGHTS – Normally Sherman Avenue up to the boardwalk would be lined with vendor booths and a tent would have housed patrons listening to music and enjoying Italian sausage sandwiches and cannolis, but thanks to the ongoing pandemic, things were different this year. An Italian-American heritage celebration was held in its place.
The Knights of Columbus Color Guard posted the colors and the Jukebox Legends sang during the day’s program. Various Italian heritage organizations were recognized during the day including the Seaside Heights Italian-American Club, the Greenbriar Oceanaire Italian-American Social Club of Waretown, the Lacey Italian-American Club Social Club, and the Point Pleasant and Brick Unizo Clubs.
While the music of the American and Italian national anthems played, one elderly Italian woman in the crown could be heard singing the words to the Italian anthem without missing a beat.
Sandy Rosenberg and Kelly Barrett of Toms River were among the early arrivals who were enjoying the music and waving the small Italian flags that were given out by members of the parade committee. “Wherever there is music we go to,” Barrett said.
While the festivities that included musical performances by the Metropolitan Festival Band started around 11 a.m., the presentations started around noon.
Officials took to the boardwalk stage, including Ocean County Columbus Day Parade and Italian Heritage Festival Committee Chairman Michael Blandina, three local mayors, Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari plus various volunteers of the parade committee.
Blandina teared up as he dedicated the program, a substitute to the usual Ocean County Columbus Day Parade and Italian Festival, in the name of his father Anthony who passed away earlier in the year. He thanked the Metropolitan Festival Band for its years of performances during the 29-year old parade/festival history and for coming out for this event. “I want to thank them for joining us in celebrating our national holiday, Columbus Day.”
Prior to the stage presentation a procession of decorated vehicles featuring the mayors of Berkeley, Brick, Toms River townships and Seaside Heights was held: Berkeley Mayor Carmen Amato, Brick Mayor John Ducey and Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz. Toms River Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill was part of the procession but could not be part of the later program on stage.
John Giavatto of Lakewood heads the International Relations sub-committee of the parade. He reviewed some of the history of the event and of Christopher Columbus himself. His committee brings performers from Italy for the Italian-Heritage Festival each year.
“Columbus Day is a national US holiday that commemorates the discovery of the new world in 1492. It did not become a federal holiday until 1937 proclaimed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is a celebration of the contribution of Italian immigrants to this beautiful country, the United States of America,” Giavatto said.
“We will be back next year stronger than before because of our unity, support of our future events in 2021,” Giavatto added.
“I want to thank those towns that participated this morning especially the police departments who did a phenomenal job in that procession. We went from Berkeley Township to Toms River, to Brick and then we headed down here to Seaside Heights,” Blandina said.
Mayor Amato remarked, “We presented a proclamation to Michael earlier today. I am a very proud Italian-American and we should be proud of our Italian heritage. Unfortunately, our heritage is under attack which is not right. Christopher Columbus, founder of America established the root to a national holiday and we are all proud of what we accomplished. Columbus Day is a holiday that should be recognized forever.”
“I was talking to someone before and they said it is sad that you couldn’t have the parade but I think it would be sad if we didn’t have anything. I want to thank Michael for putting this together. This is really important. I’m Irish and March is mostly my month but congratulations and have a wonderful Columbus Day and a wonderful heritage month during October,” Mayor Ducey said.
Mayor Vaz said, “Imagine living in 1492 when Europeans weren’t known to the new world, the legacy of Columbus to find a new continent. It was like us putting a man on the moon in 1969. Columbus was a controversial figure and yet contributed greatly to his country and to fostering our Italian culture.”
Freeholder Director Vicari noted recent events of statues of Columbus being removed and vandalized in areas of the country. “All over the United States they want to change history. They are taking down statutes. They are decapitating him. This is the land of the free and home of the brave unless you are an Italian-American.”
“I appreciate Michael Blandina and this organization for holding this ceremony where we have made it loud and clear enough is enough. When is it going to stop?” Vicari asked noting his own Italian heritage.
New Jersey Italian-American Heritage Commission Chairman Robert DiBiase echoed some of the sentiments expressed saying, “in these times, we are experiencing a rebellion against the Admiral of the seas. There is so much disinformation and propaganda maligning Columbus, causing his statues to be vandalized and torn down. From coast to coast the headlines have been difficult for Italian Americans to believe. We ask ourselves, why? You know why, “revisionists” using falsehoods to advance their own agenda.”
He said the NJIC was working with various Italian-American organizations such as the Italian American One Voice Coalition to restore the statues. “This is happening right here in cities across New Jersey, even Trenton our capital. In most cases these monuments were paid for and donated by Italians. Columbus opened the door to western civilization by bridging continents.”
Christopher Columbus has been the subject of criticism by historians and others who have stated he treated ingenious people cruelly and forced labor upon them. Some cities have cancelled Columbus Day Parades and have changed the names of monuments, buildings and streets that bore his name.