The likeness of Christopher Columbus towered over Norwalk residents gathered Sunday in an annual observance paying tribute to their Italian-American heritage.
"It's one of the best things we can have for Italian Americans here," said Enea Tedeschi after the Columbus Day celebration in Heritage Park. "Once a year we stand all together, beside this really nice (plaza), to remember what our parents, the grandparents, whatever, immigrating here, they did for us and for America. I think it's a very good thank-you for them."
Two 14-year-olds, Angela Malagi and T.J. Boyer, sang the national anthem to begin the ceremony before St. Ann Club President Nicandro Cappuccia sang the Italian anthem. Then, state Sen. Bob Duff revealed that, while his family heritage might best describe him as a "mutt," he is half Italian as well.
The 5 million southern Italians and Sicilians who came to America in generations past brought with them spirit, determination and a strong work ethic, he said.
"Few people realize that, in those early days, Italians were being invited to come to America because they possessed sorely needed skills," Duff said. "After the Civil War ravaged America, we were desperate for families who knew how to till the soil. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to say America's agricultural success came by the hands of Italian immigrants. The same can be said of our glass-making industry, our silk industry, and certainly the many fine vineyards that dot our country even today."
The Italian immigrants also brought their creativity and natural ability to entertain, he said, listing the accomplishments of "Chairman of the Board" Frank Sinatra; Joseph Barbera, the animator/producer behind cartoon classics like "The Flintstones" "Huckleberry Hound," "The Jetsons" and those little blue Smurfs, and Joe DiMaggio, who helped the Yankees win 10 American League pennants and nine World Series championships.
Then there were the anonymous Italian Americans, the brick layers, millwrights and steelworkers, the "thousands of tailors and seamstresses, barbers and hairdressers." he said.
"But while I stand here tonight painting picture upon picture of Italian-American success, let me remind you that our grandparents and great-grandparents left one hell in Italy only to arrive at another here in America," he said. "They were subjected to some of the worst prejudices imaginable, and at the hands of others who called themselves Americans, but who had come here years earlier and had already become one of us ... Not until after the war ended, after a half-million men of Italian descent had enlisted to fight the Axis powers, did Italian Americans become one of us."
The children ended the ceremony as well, singing "God Bless America."
Cappuccia, who wrote the text of the large plaque on Heritage Wall, proclaiming that all Americans should be equal, is one of the founders of the ceremony.
"It's very important to show the young people our traditions and pride in the heritage that we have," he said. "It's very, very important that, every year, we come here and do this."