A Brief History of Italian Heritage and Culture Month
Sponsored by the Italian Heritage and Culture Committee – NY, Inc. (IHCC-NY, INC.)
New York’s Italian Heritage and Culture Month will celebrate its forty-fifth anniversary this year, 2021. The Italian Heritage and Culture Committee of New York, Inc. has provided more than four decades of special events, concerts, exhibits, lectures, and proclamations to better inform New York, the largest Italian city outside Italy, and other geographic areas throughout the United States and the world, of the important legacy of Italians and Italian Americans and to celebrate their significant cultural contributions.
In the spring of 1976 the Mayor of New York City, Abraham Beame, initiated the first “Italian Culture Week” from May 17 to 23 of that year. The idea was originally brought to the attention of Dr. Leo Bernardo, Director of the City Bureau of Foreign Languages of the Board of Education of the City of New York, and he was easily persuaded of the value and importance of the proposal, appointing Dr. Angelo Gimondo as project coordinator. Nine years later, in 1985, the festivities moved to October, to coincide with various Columbus Day celebrations, and grew in duration to become “Italian Heritage and Culture Month.” As the years passed, the Governor of the State of New York and the President of the United States joined in acknowledging this significant annual celebration by issuing proclamations in recognition of the heritage and culture of Italians and Italian Americans.
Dr. Gimondo (honored by the Italian Government on several occasions, including being granted the title of Gran Uff. in the Order of the Star of Solidarity was the head of the corps of volunteers who annually coordinated the celebration of Italian heritage and culture in the five boroughs of New York. His wholehearted enthusiasm for the project was matched by that of Rosamaria Riccio Pietanza, then President of the Italian Teachers Association of New York, who, together with him, assembled educators and administrators with an interest in language and culture, many of whom remain involved with the IHCC-NY, Inc.
In December 2006 Dr. Gimondo retired as founder and president of the IHCC-NY, Inc. after thirty years of outstanding leadership, leaving an important legacy that continues to this day. He presently serves on the board as a consultant and adviser. In January 2007, then Cav. Uff. Joseph Sciame, Vice-President for Community Relations at St. John’s University, past president of the national Order Sons of Italy in America, and an IHCC-NY, Inc. Board member for three decades, was elected President/Chair of the Board of Directors. Under his leadership, the Board of Directors of the IHCC-NY, Inc. continues to be comprised of eminent representatives of New York’s Italian and Italian American community.
Early on, the organizers conceived of the idea to dedicate each year’s celebration to a specific theme or personality from the history and culture of Italy and Italian Americans. Each year the Board of Directors selects a new theme, commissions a poster, and publishes a Calendar of Events booklet. The themes represent some of Italian America’s many significant leaders, concepts, and historical highlights, and a list of them is included below.
In addition to its efforts to promote heritage and culture, along with the annual Da Vinci Award ceremonies conferred upon distinguished Italians and Italian Americans, the IHCC-NY, Inc. has in recent years:
- sponsored a concert in Washington Square Park in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Garibaldi;
- organized a special anniversary gathering on the occasion of the 200th birthday of Antonio Meucci, inventor of the telephone;
- mounted an international art exhibit from Palermo, Sicily, of works by Rosa Ponte Fucarino; and partnered with the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America in the 500th Anniversary Celebration of Andrea Palladio;
- supported the efforts of the Italian and Italian American community in promoting the cause of the Advanced Placement exam in Italian language in U.S. high schools;
- saluted the lifetime achievements of the late Rocco Caporale, Ph.D., former Board Member;
- hosted a special tribute to international playwright Cav. Prof. Mario Fratti for his play and movie Nine;
- participated in the annual flag-raising ceremonies at Bowling Green, the site of the arrival of the first Italian to New York, Pietro Cesare Alberti. Commencing in 2010, the October flag-raising has been held at the “Mother Italy” statue at Hunter College, CUNY, NYC, followed by a traditional luncheon to celebrate Italian Heritage and Culture Month with the IHCC’s Board of Directors;
- advocated for obtaining an official U.S. Congressional Resolution for the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy;
- welcomed in 2012 an international exhibit from Florence, Italy, honoring Amerigo Vespucci (the year’s theme for Italian Heritage and Culture Month); in October 2012 a bust statue of Vespucci by sculptor Greg Wyatt was unveiled for permanent display at the Organization of American States under the sponsorship of Ambassador Sebastiano Fulci;
- celebrated Italian Heritage and Culture Month 2012 at the National Arts Club, with the participation of international singer Cristina Fontanelli;
- co-sponsored in December 2012 the famed Presepio at the Staten Island campus of St. John’s University with the Casa Belvedere Foundation. The Presepio was a gift to the NYC Fire Department by Italian officials of the Chamber of Commerce of Naples following the tragic events of 9/11;
- hosted special ceremonies in March 2013 at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute to inaugurate the “Poster Series” created by Artistic Director John Battista DeSantis in honor of 2013: Year of Italian Culture in the United States. Several weeks later Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero visited the site to view the posters during an unprecedented stop at the Institute;
- from 2014-15, the Board of Directors continued its tradition at the Mother Italy Statue with its various recognitions, and for the October 2014 Columbus Day weekend saluted Board Member Distinguished Professor Cav. Anthony Julian Tamburri, Ph.D., Dean, Calandra Institute, for his lifetime of professional, ethnic and cultural achievements, while over the 2015 Mother’s Day weekend, the Board recognized the work of Minister Natalia Quintavalle, Consul General of Italy in New York;
- joined in partnership in 2015 with the cultural theme advocated in Italy for October. The IHCC determined that it be appropriate to recognize Italians and Italian Americans in science and technology by celebrating “2015 Year of Italian Creativity: Celebrating 50 Years of Science and Technology; New York World’s Fair 1965 – Expo Milano 2015;” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases received the 2014 IHCC-Y, Inc. da Vinci Award;
- continued its tradition of a flag-raising ceremony at the Mother Italy Statue for the October 2015 Columbus Day weekend by saluting Elisabetta Calello, Special Assistant to the Consul General of Italy in New York, on the occasion of her retirement after forty-three years of service to the Consulate General of Italy in New York and the Italian-American community;
- named the 2015 Leonardo da Vinci Awardee, Dr. Robert C. Gallo, who was feted at a reception in January 2016 held at the Consulate General of Italy in New York. Dr. Gallo, renowned worldwide for his research and study in the field of immunology, continues his research as Director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine;
- recognized the work of the National Organization of Italian American Women (NOIAW) with special congratulations to Aileen Riotto Sirey, Ph.D., Founding Chair and current Chair, Maria Tamburri, at the May 2016 Mother Italy ceremony;
- hosted on September 30, 2016 a kickoff for the Columbus Day Weekend at the Consulate General, honoring Minister Francesco Genuardi. On this occasion, a fund-raising appeal was initiated in order to provide a future donation to an earthquake-stricken area in Italy;
- acknowledged on May 12, 2017 Dr. Ann Prisco (Sergi), president of Felician University, for her professional achievements at the “Mother Italy” statue at Hunter College, CUNY. Following the ceremony and in honor of the 40th anniversary year of the IHCC-NY, Inc., two da Vinci awards were presented for the 2016 year. Accepting the award for the John D. Calandra Institute, CUNY, was Cav. Dr. Anthony Julian Tamburri and for the Columbus Citizens Foundation, Inc. was Angelo Vivolo. In addition, special recognition awards were presented to America Oggi publisher Cav. Andrea Mantineo and to Roberto Frangione, Deputy Consul General of Italy in New York. An historic moment for the IHCC-NY, Inc. occurred with a presentation of a special check, in the amount of $10,000 raised by supporters and donors, that was announced via a teleconference with Montessori school officials in Macerata, Italy;
- conducted on October 6, 2017 the annual Pre Columbus Day and weekend activities with a program and reception at the Consulate General of Italy honoring award winning filmmaker Anton Evangelista and actress Angela Pietropinto Chimera, as part of the year’s theme and salute to Cinema and Theater;
- hailed on May 11, 2018 the term of stay in New York City by Deputy Consul Isabella Periotto with a ceremony at the Mother Italy Statue and a luncheon at Vivolo’s for IHCC Board members and guests;
- advocated for the ongoing work of IACE – the Italian American Committee on Education, under the leadership of Cav. Dott. Berardo Paradiso, for the continued growth of the Advanced Placement in Italian, a work in progress for a generation or more;
- joined in 2018 the Columbus Heritage Coalition in the saving of the famed statue at Columbus Circle, New York City and participate on a Steering Committee to ensure continued education and advocacy for the appropriate recognition of the Discoverer Columbus;
- recognized by the Republic of Italy on June 5, 2018, Joseph Sciame, President/Chair of the IHCC-NY, Inc. was decorated by the Consul General Francesco Genuardi at a private ceremony as a Commendatore in the Order of Merit as designated by the President of Italy. On March 1, 2019 he was elected President, Sons of Italy Foundation, Inc.;
- honored on May 10, 2019, The term of stay by Deputy Consul Chiara Saulle, with a ceremony for Mother’s Day weekend at the Mother Italy Statue in the presence of Minister and Consul General Francesco Genuardi;
- presented on October 11, 2019, the da Vinci Award to Stephen A. Briganti, Former President and CEO of the Statue of Liberty- Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. Attending the Award Ceremony was Mayor Bill de Blasio;
- commemorated Dante Day on March 25, 2021, in collaboration with the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute and the Consulate General of Italy in New York, with a ceremony and wreath laying at the Dante statue at Lincoln Center. In 2021 Min. Dario Franchesini, Italian Minister of Culture Dario, proposed to establish an annual national Dantedi’ (Dante Day) on March 25th, and Dante was celebrated throughout the world this year. This is the presumed date when Dante Alighieri, medieval poet and philosopher, began the journey in his epic poem the Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy). Among the distinguished speakers were the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio and poet Prof. Luigi Ballerini;
- honored in July, 2021, the term of stay by Deputy Consul General Silvia Limoncini was recognized with a ceremony at the Mother Italy Statue in the presence of Minister and Consul General Min. Plen. Febrizio Di Michele, newly arrived to the New York Consulate.
The IHCC-NY, Inc.’s role in concert with the Office of the Consulate General, now led by Min. Plen. Fabrizio Di Michele, as well as with the American Association of Teachers of Italian (AATI) and the Italian American Committee on Education (IACE), has been strengthened over the years in more collaborative ways so as to achieve common goals in education, heritage, culture, language, diplomatic respect, and a better understanding of the Italianità that is so important to the legacy bequeathed to Italian Americans by their families. For many years the Consuls General of Italy have each fully supported the efforts of IHCC-NY, as has the Office of the Director of Istituto Italiano di Cultura di New York.
Today, owing to the work of the IHCC-NY, Inc., a multitude of programs and events is organized by cultural associations, community centers, libraries, schools, and university departments of Italian in the greater New York metropolitan area to proudly celebrate October’s Italian Heritage and Culture Month. Moreover, in other places such as Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington D.C., Wisconsin, and more, Italian Americans have followed the example of the IHCC-NY, Inc. and enhanced activities in their respective areas for the month of October.