Italian Heritage in New Jersey: Rose Fieramosca

You’ve probably never heard of today’s New Jerseyan of Italian heritage. She wasn’t famous, or rich, or any of the other things most would people consider noteworthy. She was a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, an aunt, a great cook, and a devout Catholic. She was my Grandmother – Rosina Fucetola Fieramosca.

Like many of my friends growing up, I grew up in a multi-generational household. I had no idea if this was unusual or special; it’s just the way it was. My immediate family was downstairs. Upstairs was my “extended family,” although I never knew such a word existed growing up. It was just “family.” Upstairs were my Grandparents and my Uncle Sonny. Sadly, my Grandpa passed away when I was very young, so it was always my Grandma and my Uncle – her eldest son. There were there for every day of my life, until the moment each of them passed away at home.

Rose Fucetola was born in Newark, New Jersey on October 21, 1905, the daughter of Lucia and Gabriel. She married her one and only love, Pasquale Fieramosca, on November 8, 1922. Over her lifetime, she had five children, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Me with my Grandma (left) and my Aunt Anna (right) at my wedding in 1994.

I don’t know if I really ever thought about it at the time, but it was an incredibly special way to live. Sunday dinners with the family upstairs. Dinner downstairs during the week, including Grandma and Uncle Sonny. If you were sick, she would make you pastina. If you were hungry, she would heat up leftover meatballs from Sunday. After spilling wine on a white top once, she was the only one who could make it look like it was brand new. Dying house plant? Bring it to Grandma. It would magically come back to life. When I made my Confirmation, I took the name “Rose” for her and my Sponsor – my cousin Rosanne.

In the late 90s, the book Newark’s Little Italy: The Vanished First Ward by Michael Immerso was published. If you ever wondered what it was to grow up in an Italian household in New Jersey, this book provides the perfect description. I took her to the Barnes and Noble on Rt. 46 in Little Falls for a lecture by the author. We arrived early so she could sit up front and make sure she heard everything. After his talk, people had the opportunity to ask questions. Whenever he didn’t know something, she would whisper the answer to him. He finally laughed and said “I’m being coached.” She had a memory that didn’t quit. At the end of the evening the line for attendees to speak with my Grandma was longer than the line to meet the author. It was a wonderful evening.

She was not just a woman proud of her heritage; she was a proud American. In my entire lifetime, I can only think of a handful of times I heard her speak Italian, even though she was completely fluent. When I was a child I would bring Italian books home from the library and beg her to read them to me and teach me. Her answer was always the same, “you are an American and you speak English.” She believed in the great American experiment. I remember her telling me of stories of singing patriotic songs during WWII and flying American flags.

Finally, she was a woman of faith and made sure we were all instilled with that same faith. When she wasn’t able to go to mass any longer, I became a Eucharistic Minister so I could bring her communion.

Today is her 115th birthday. And while it is ridiculous to believe so, I wish she was still here with her family that loves her. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her.

This probably sounds like a typical life of someone who is far from noteworthy. However, I promise you, noteworthy is exactly what she was.. and still is.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: Dr. Steve Adubato

A modern-day New Jersey native of Italian descent I feel is deserving of recognition is Steve Adubato, Ph.D. He is someone I have admired since I was a teenager. Born in Newark, he was the youngest state legislator in the New Jersey General Assembly at age 26. Dr. Adubato earned both his master’s and Doctor of Philosophy degree in mass communication from Rutgers.

Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
Credit: steveadubato.org

I remember watching his program Caucus New Jersey on public access television when I was young. He asked probing and thoughtful questions and was always able to get a response, unlike what often happens in politics and reporting today.

Now he is an individual with a national presence. He has television shows, a podcast, and is often a guest speaker at institutions of higher learning across the country, including my alma mater, Seton Hall University, where he serves as a Buccino Leadership Institute Fellow and is teaching a master class in the spring 2020 semester.

With a focus on leadership and communication, his most recent book, Lessons in Leadership, Dr. Audobato focuses on self-awareness, empathy, and how to be a leader at home and work.

He currently anchors three television series produced by the Caucus Educational Corporation (CEC); State of Affairs, One-on-One, and Think Tank. They are available on multiple platforms, including PBS, NJTV online, and YouTube.

Dr. Adubato has taught many to think critically as well as ask important questions on behalf of his fellow New Jerseyans. He has certainly made his home state, and his home county of Essex, proud.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: Msgr. Joseph Granato

If there is anyone who should be the first individual I highlight for Italian Heritage Month, it must be Msgr. Joseph Granato. Msgr. Granato borders on rock star status at St. Lucy’s Church in Newark, home to the National Shrine of St. Gerard. He served St. Lucy’s for 54 years. It was the only parish he ever served. He was the third pastor of St. Lucy’s Church.

St. Lucy’s Church, Newark

Joseph Granato was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 9, 1929. His parents were Anthony Granato and Theresa DePiano Granato. The family moved to Newark during his infancy. His brother was Rev. Anthony F. Granato, Pastor of St. Anthony’s Church, East Newark.

On June 4, 1955, his day of ordination; he found his place of religious assignment was to be St. Lucy’s Parish.

Then Father Granato, was appointed Administrator in 1971 and shortly thereafter in 1977 was assigned by Archbishop Peter Gerety as Pastor of the Church he so dearly loved. On July 16, 1979, he was awarded the honor of being named Monsignor by His Holiness, John Paul II. He remained as Pastor of St. Lucy’s and served the community faithfully during his 54 years in the priesthood.

On October 29, 1999 Monsignor Granato was awarded the first Msgr. Joseph Granato Italian Culture Medal at Seton Hall University. The medal celebrates distinguished achievement in the promotion and preservation of Italian culture in the state of New Jersey.

St. Lucy’s Church is a place of wonderous art and offers a space for quiet prayerful meditation. Each October, St. Lucy’s celebrates the Feast of St. Gerard. The days of the Feast are filled with masses, celebrations, food, and a procession through the streets of Newark.

Sadly, this year almost all the events are cancelled, due to the inability to attain the proper permits from the city of Newark due to the pandemic.

This is an incredibly important time for the church, as most of their fundraising takes place during the few days of the Feast. If you are able, I urge you to donate what you can so St. Lucy’s can continue to do its good works in the community and carry forward its 100-plus-year history, which includes the tremendous contributions of Monsignor Granato.

Class Action Park

“Shake it off…”

That was the phrase I heard regularly growing up. Whenever I came home with a scraped knee, a bruise on my arm, or even if I was upset about something, I regularly heard that phrase.

What is now often referred to “free range parenting,” was just called “playing outside” when I was a kid. You would go ride your bike, walk to a friend’s house, play with the neighborhood kids. You went out after homework was finished and you came home when the street lights came on.

No cell phones. No worries. And kids didn’t know terms like “liability.”

If you didn’t grow up in the 70s and 80s, it is hard to explain. You were expected to play outside with little to no supervision. Atari had just come out and very few families had one. We would ride bikes and play kick ball. Some kids in Belleville would spend their summer at the Rec House (the town recreation center) and participate in sports. In the winter we would go to Branch Brook Park and go sledding. I remember going full speed down the hill going right into the hubcap of a parked car nearby. I was told to just stand up and “shake it off.”

There were very few worries from parents about kidnappings, possible abuse, or going missing.

I will say my parents were pretty strict and kept me fairly sheltered. When I would go for rides on my bike, it was mainly to head up to the high school track. Not to run, but to go all the way up to the top corner of the stands and read. I was hardly an exciting kid.

Maybe that’s why I wasn’t prepared for Action Park.

I had seen commercials for the fabled park in Sussex County and begged my mother to take me. She repeatedly refused. Eventually another friend and I nagged our mothers enough, and they gave in.

Action Park is a regular topic in Weird New Jersey. Once I even wrote a letter to the magazine about my one – and only one – day at Action Park. I was very excited when I saw it published. This is the edited version of my letter:

I definitely remember Action Park as a kid. My mom and her friend took me, my brother and her friend’s kids to Action Park only once. After much nagging, my mother finally agreed to take me on the Alpine Slide. My first clue that this was a bad idea should’ve been the blood-covered teenager being carried half-way down the mountain after her car flipped over. Of course, I was too young to think, “this might be a bad idea.” Well, I was scared out of my wits and almost ripped the so-called “brake” right off, I was pulling on it so hard (to no avail). I don’t remember going on anything else because I think I probably blocked it out of my memory. –Andrea Lyn Van Benschoten

Tonight I watched the documentary of the now defunct park, Class Action Park. I had heard the stories growing up, but some of the “behind the scenes” stories were funny, sad, and shocking all at once.

Action Park couldn’t exist anywhere else or at any other time. Those of us from Jersey are proud to have our battle scars. You need to be from Jersey to understand what it is to be Jersey proud. And to grow up during the 80s meant you were sort of on your own. Many teenagers headed to Action Park and enjoyed the same freedom.

Action Park – where YOU control the action!

That was the mantra of Action Park. The truth was, there was no control. Kids ran the park. There was excessive drinking and many deaths. Depending on the reports, at least six individuals died during the heyday of the park. In 1986, the New Jersey Herald reported 110 injuries were logged for the summer 1985 season, including 45 head injuries and 10 fractures. That figure grew to 330 for summer 1986. Injuries were so common, the park actually purchased an additional ambulance for the town of Vernon.

Eventually, unsupervised time turned into chaos and death.

Most of my teenage years included skiing at Vernon Valley; the winter version of Action Park. They used the same lift in both the winter and summer, and you could see the snow-covered track of the Alpine Slide. The ride that scared me half to death many years before. It is worth mentioning ski equipment was stolen if left unlocked; the snow machine was often pointed directly where the lift was, so you were covered in snow and ice by the time you made it to the top of the mountain; the lights would regularly shut off while you were skiing down; the mountain was often ice covered. I actually saw someone take a mogul and fly into a pole once.

I also broke my hand skiing once and sprained my wrist another time. I “shook it off” until I arrived home and my mother took me to the doctor the next day to put a cast on. No muss, no fuss. Guess I had a little Jersey toughness in me after all.

Belleville Loses a Favorite Son: Tommy DeVito

Music is a huge part of the history of New Jersey. The Boss. Bon Jovi. Southside Johnny.

The Four Seasons early in their career, from left: Bob Gaudio, Frankie Valli, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito. Credit: via The Four Seasons

There is another part of music history that goes back a little further. Those greats include Francis Albert Sinatra, Bucky Pizzarelli, Connie Francis, and The Four Seasons. Straight from Essex County, and more specifically, my hometown of Belleville, Gaetano “Tommy” DeVito was one of the original members.

This week, Tommy’s voice fell silent as he was lost to complications from Coronavirus.

“It is with great sadness that we report that Tommy DeVito, a founding member of The Four Seasons, has passed,” according to a statement released from Frankie Valli & Bob Gaudio. “We send our love to his family during this most difficult time. He will be missed by all who loved him.”

The youngest of nine, Tommy was born in Belleville into an Italian-American family. At eight years old, he taught himself to play his brother’s guitar by listening to music on the radio. He quit school after the eighth grade and by the time he was 12, he was playing for tips in a variety of local hangouts.

His professional career began officially in the 1950s with his group, The Variety Trio. The group went through several incantations until it turned into The Four Seasons after childhood friend, Joe Pesci, introduced him to Bob Gaudio. In September of 1962, the single “Sherry” hit number one. This was the first of three consecutive chart-topping hits from the group. Other hits included “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.”

As a little girl I remember going upstairs to my Grandmother’s and would listen to The Four Seasons records on my Uncle Sonny’s stereo. It is a wonderful memory.

After Tommy left the group, good friend Joe once again helped him get parts in movies like Casino. He also recorded an album of Italian folk songs.

“Jersey Boys” opened on Broadway in November 2005 and highlighted the history of the famed group. At the beginning of the show, there’s a shoutout to Belleville; and anyone in the audience from the town gives a yell and applause on its announcement.

Belleville has been home to many favorite sons and daughters. From medal of honor recipients to musicians. Tommy DeVito is definitely among our favorite sons.

Remembering September 12th

Tomorrow is the 19th anniversary of the most horrific attack on United States soil. Like many, I remember every minute of the day. The report on the radio that there was “some kind of accident” at the Twin Towers. Searching feverishly for the flight information for two of my colleagues that were flying out of Newark Airport that morning. The panic I tried to quash in my heart as I waited to hear word on my friend’s father. Watching the smoke rise as I drove to School 9 in my hometown of Belleville to check on my friend’s mom.

The 9-11 Memorial in New York City

I remember my husband calling to check on me from the school where he was teaching at the time. I told him I was going to School 9 to check on my friend’s mother. He said one word; “good.” He said he was staying at school until every child was picked up and to see if anything else was needed to be done.

I grew up seeing those two gleaming buildings as I drove down Division Avenue in Belleville. There’s a picture somewhere of me and my “lil’ sis” on her front lawn and you can see them far off in the distance. Now, her father’s 9-11 pin is proudly framed and hangs on the wall in our home.

We watched police, fire fighters, and EMTs rush to the site, never to be seen again. We watched people help each other try to get out alive. We watched people go their local hospital and wait on line for hours to donate blood, anticipating tens of thousands of wounded. The wounded never came.

We all talk about the shock and horror of 9-11. But this year, more than any other year, I choose to remember 9-12.

Within a short period of time, we started to hear the stories of people staying behind with those who couldn’t get out. Men carrying down those who were handicapped. Others who went up the stairs to try and help evacuate those who were trapped instead of running to safety.

America came together to fight back.

We said with one voice – no. We said we stand together as Americans and we refuse to be afraid. We were Americans first. Not Democrat, Republican, or Independent. Not liberal, conservative, or moderate. Not black or white.

Americans.

It is safe to say 2020 has been an incredibly tough year. Frustration. Loss. Sadness. Confusion.

Today, we are a fractured nation on many fronts. There’s a lot of yelling and not much listening.

I wish everyone could remember our nation’s response on 9-12 this year.

Every year, many of us utter the words “never forget.” May we never forget 9-11, but even more, may we never forget 9-12.

Gardens in the Garden State

It is safe to say this has been a tough year for everyone. Cut off from our families, friends, and our normal routines, many have decided to take on new challenges during this time. Many are turning to what I refer to as “analog hobbies;” meaning things we can do that do not involve technology. Maybe it is because we now spend all day in solitude working from home, staring at out laptops. Maybe it is because we have so much time on our hands, we need something new.

I am a huge fan of analog hobbies. While I spend most of my time working in the digital space, I have found over the years analog hobbies provide both enjoyment and challenges. I crochet, spin yarn, tie flies, fly fishing, do yoga, and over the last few years, garden.

When we moved into our new community two years ago, I discovered the town had a community garden. For a small annual fee, you can rent a plot in a space set aside for garden enthusiasts. I hadn’t had a garden in over a decade and was eager to begin again. In the last two years, I have tried out planting items I never cultivated before, met some wonderful people from my new community, and learned new gardening skills. Since New Jersey is known as the “Garden State,” I think it is a perfect hobby.

Whether it was Victory Gardens during World War II or gardening now during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are looking to gardening to help alleviate stress, as well as cultivate and control their own food sources. Published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, “Therapeutic horticulture in clinical depression: a prospective study of active components” found gardening therapy to be effective in reducing the symptoms of depression. Individuals participated in a 12-week “therapeutic horticulture program” at four farms near Oslo, Norway. It is safe to say gardening has helped many cope with the stress, anxiety, and depression many have experienced due to the lack of social interaction.

Additionally, many community gardens provide fresh fruits and vegetables to local social service organizations for those who are at risk of food insecurity. As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on and many lose their sources of income, the fresh produce provided to these organizations by community gardens has become increasingly important. Last year the community garden I belong to donated several hundred pounds of fresh produce to our local food pantry. This effort is duplicated in community gardens throughout New Jersey.

Earlier this year, a Newark couple spearheaded a plan to turn a vacant lot on Grafton Avenue into a beautiful community garden. It took an eyesore of space that was regularly littered with trash and needles and turned it into a vibrant space for the community to grow their own vegetables and show off the pride of their area. This has been a huge undertaking and I look forward to visiting their garden when we are able to travel more freely. This is a project to truly be celebrated!

There are locations, however, where space for community gardens have come under attack. The town of Denville in Morris County is looking to cut space of their community garden for – you guessed it – a parking lot.

Every time I hear about a project like this, I am reminded of the lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell…

“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”

While New Jersey is officially known as the Garden State, it is often referred to as the Mall State. What was once great farming lands have often been reduced to strip malls and parking lots. As more blacktop is put down, weather like rain and snow has nowhere to go. It won’t be absorbed into the once fertile soil. Instead it will create run-off that will lead to more flooding and pollution.

This parking lot is part of a $2.7 million dollar library expansion project in Denville.

I am a huge fan of public libraries and have often written about their continued importance for their communities. However, this is not about a library. This is about eliminating a sizable amount of green garden space for a parking lot.

Here is a video which shows how much of the garden space will be lost.

DenvilleGarden

It is shocking that the Mayor and town government would support such a plan.

As the video shares, the members of the community garden donate much of their bounty to a local orphanage, as well as local food pantries and churches to help their neighbors avoid food insecurity.

I implore Mayor Thomas Andes and the Town Council to rethink this decision. Now, more than ever, we need more open public space, not less And that open space should include community gardens.

The Official Jersey Bucket List – Part Two

After the publishing of my “Official Jersey Bucket List,” I received many requests for a part two. I will admit as soon as I published it, I continued to come up with more ideas. There is so much to see in New Jersey, it is almost impossible to include it all in one list.

Let’s face it, in light of the Coronavirus outbreak, many of us will staycation this summer, so why not turn into a Jersey tourist for a day and check out some of our great places right outside your front door! Some are currently open, while others aren’t quite there just yet. But that’s OK, as you will have plenty ideas as the summer continues. Here are some more ideas in my “Official Jersey Bucket List – Part Two.”

Visit a public farm: While many refer to Jersey as “The Mall State,” we are officially known as “The Garden State.” From the top of the state to the bottom, there are public farms, wineries, nurseries, and “pick your own” options available. I recommend you check out Hillcrest Orchard & Dairy in Branchville, the home of Jersey Girl Cheese.

Visit one of our great museums: In 2018, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City put in place a mandatory entrance fee of $25 for non-New York residents. Up until now, The Met’s entrance fee was by “suggested donation,” which made it accessible for all. Now it will be far from that for many. I can’t tell you how much this ticked me off. However, it was a good reminder that there are MANY great museums right here in New Jersey! I recommend you check out the Newark Museum, our largest museum in the state, which opened in 1909. A personal favorite of mine is the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts, which focuses on 18th- and 19th- century craftsmen and artisans. If you are looking for something outside, visit the Grounds for Sculpture, which opened in 1992. It is a 42-acre sculpture park, museum, and arboretum founded on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds. These are just three museums in our great state. There is at least one museum in every county, so no matter where you live, there’s a museum nearby.

Check out the Jersey music scene: Bands like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes are known for that “Jersey sound.” What some may not know is that the sound is actually something we all know from the shore – the Calliope. Listen to the keyboard of those bands and see if your memory brings you back to The pipe organ and drum sound from the merry-go-round you couldn’t wait to ride when you were a child. Of course The Stone Pony is a Jersey icon, but there are plenty other music venues in the state. Check out the Count Basie Center for the Arts.

Visit Ellis Island: New Jersey has one of the most diverse immigrant populations in the country. And while New York thinks they “own” Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, they are actually in Jersey waters. Ellis Island is a National Park and offers an amazing amount of information about the story of immigration in the United States. Trace your family history in their genealogy database and you can even add your family information to the story of the Island.

Go to Fort Hancock: Another great National Park in New Jersey is Sandy Hook. While many people head to Sandy Hook just for the beach, there is a lot more to do on the over 4,000 acres of land that comprise the park. This piece of land has played a significant part of American History going back to the 1700s. One part of Sandy Hook is Fort Hancock. In 1895, the U.S. Army renamed the “Fortifications at Sandy Hook” as Fort Hancock. The installation would protect New York Harbor from invasion by sea. Its yellow brick buildings were constructed largely between 1898-1910, with the fort reaching its peak population in World War II. There is now a push on to preserve these old buildings that are, unfortunately, beginning to crumble. Hopefully, they will continue to persevere.

Visit the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park: Located in-between New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey was able to play a part of the industrial revolution during the early 19th century. How? Through the Delaware & Raritan Canal (known as the D&R). In 1834, the D&R was officially open for business and was one of the busiest navigation canals in the United States. Its peak years were in the mid to late 1800s, primarily moving tons of Pennsylvania coal. By the end of the 19th century, canal use was declining throughout the country. In 1973, the canal and its remaining structures were entered on the National Register of Historic Places. It is now a beautiful place to fish, hike and bike along the 70 miles of the canal.

Visit Walpack, but please be respectful: Officially founded in 1731, the Dutch lived on the land known as “Wallpack” as early as the mid-1600s. The of the town’s name comes from the Lenape Native American content word “wahlpeck,” which means “turn-hole (eddy or whirlpool). It is not considered a “ghost town,” as about 20 residents still call Walpack home. The town is located within the confines of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The town has a sad history since the 1970s that includes a failed national project, eminent domain, vandalism, looting, and fires intentionally set. Many are afraid one day what is left of the town will be gone. During the lockdown, vandals broke into several buildings and left behind an incredible amount of damage. If you are so inclined, consider joining their historical society to help repair what was damaged. If you know anything about the damage, please contact NPS Dispatch at 570-426-2457. It is a beautiful place, but if you visit, please be respectful of the history of the town and its residents. Take only photos and leave only footprints.

I hope you enjoyed this “part two” of my official Jersey bucket list and it provides you with more ways to enjoy your staycation in our wonderful state!

Heritage

heritage noun
her·​i·​tage | \ ˈher-ə-tij  , ˈhe-rə- \
Definition of heritage
1: property that descends to an heir
2a: something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor : LEGACY, INHERITANCE proud of her Italian heritage
a rich heritage of folklore
The battlefields are part of our heritage and should be preserved.
b: TRADITION
the party’s heritage of secularism

There have been a lot of conversations about heritage as of late. Right now, what one person looks to as a proud heritage, another person looks to as oppression. This is resulting in the removal of statues and the review of what is often a tumultuous history of our nation.

In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

We all learned that rhyme as children when we were taught Columbus “discovered” America.

Well… not quite.

The truth is, as children what we were taught was not always accurate. According to Columbus’ journal, he suggested the enslavement of the indigenous people he encountered in modern-day Haiti. While he did not find the riches he expected, he sent back 500 indigenous peoples in the form of slaves to Queen Isabella of Spain. The horrified Queen immediately returned the individuals, as she considered them Spanish subjects, thus they could not be enslaved.

Columbus made a total of four trips to the “New World” during his days of exploration. The man is now a point of controversy due to the true history of his exploration. Some consider him a great explorer, as the first in a long line of explorers to travel to the Americas. Others remind us of the flawed history we were taught and his inhumane treatment of the indigenous people he encountered.

So, why am I telling you all this? Stay with me.

New Jersey has been the home of countless Italian immigrants and Americans of Italian descent; like me.

I was born in Columbus Hospital in Newark. I grew up with macaroni on Sundays at 3:00 p.m. – sharp. When I passed my driver’s exam, one of my new jobs was heading to DiPaolo’s Bakery on Bloomfield Avenue before dinner on Sunday to pick up bread and dessert. I went to (and still go to) the annual Feast of St. Gerard at St. Lucy’s Church; the Church my Great Grandmother would help clean every day after morning mass. We were taught to be proud Americans – but to never forget where you came from.

Enter Christopher Columbus.

During October, Italian Heritage Month, Columbus Day is celebrated; often with parades and sometimes, a day off from work. Due to the recent civil unrest, there are calls to remove statues of Columbus and eliminate the holiday. Some have even suggesting replacing the day with “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

In the city of my birth, there are – or were – two Columbus statues. The larger of the two was in Washington Park. It stood as a gift from the Italian community of Newark in 1927. Funds were privately raised directly from the immigrants who helped turn Newark into a modern metropolis. The second one I saw often, as it was in front of St. Francis Xavier Church on Bloomfield Avenue. My Grandmother was part of the St. Francis Senior Citizens Club. Another “job” of mine once I was able to drive was to drop her off and pick her up from her meetings. This statue was a gift to Newark from the Italian Tribune newspaper.

Both are now gone.

Under the cover of darkness, Mayor Ras Baraka had the statue removed from Washington Park. In a press release from the Mayor, he said the removal of the statue is not a slight to the Italian-American community, but as a “statement against the barbarism, enslavement, and oppression that this explorer represents.”

Trust me when I tell you, a slight is exactly what that act was.

The second statue was removed by the Italian Tribune before the Mayor made the decision to remove it as well. Additionally, a Columbus statue was removed from West Orange by their Mayor. Another statue was recently removed in Trenton.

That statue the Mayor took down represents more than just a man. It represents the hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants and Americans of Italian descent that made important contributions to the history of Newark, New Jersey, and the United States. There is no doubt the history of Columbus we were taught as children is not accurate. He does not represent all that is great of the Italian heritage. However, if the statues of Columbus come down, will something to commemorate all Italian immigrants and their descendants have done go in its place? While I hope so, I doubt it.

StLucys

St. Lucy’s Church

Italian immigrants throughout the country assimilated quickly to their new homeland. Oftentimes, they gave up their language and in many instances, their ethnic names within one generation. Pasquale became Patrick and Lucia became Lucille – all in the effort to be more “American.” When I was a child, I used to bring home books in Italian from the library and beg my Grandmother to teach me. Her answer was always the same; “you are American and you speak English!” To this day I am still trying to learn.

Despite the often posted “Italians need not apply,” they worked hard. They were masons, butchers, and worked on the railroad. The men built the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. They enlisted in the military of their new homeland, and fought on the front lines of two World Wars.

I hope a new statue will be placed in Newark as a way to commemorate all the contributions of the Italian community. Here are four examples:

Mother Cabrini: Saint Francis Cabrini was an Italian immigrant who created a missionary to help other Italian immigrants when they came to America. She is the first American Saint to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

Amerigo Vespucci: Our country’s literal namesake, Vespucci traveled to the “New World” multiple times during his time of exploration.

Giovanni da Verrazzano: da Verrazzano’s expedition to the “New World” traveled almost the entire East Coast of the United States and Canada.

Monsignor Joseph Perotti: As a young priest, Father Perotti immigrated to Newark in 1896 and became the first Pastor of St. Lucy’s Church, an important Italian place of worship, where he remained his entire pastoral career, until his death in 1933.

These are just four of the countless members of the Italian community in Newark that are deserving of recognition.

I am a proud American. I am also proud of my heritage.

Right now there’s a lot of yelling on both sides of the argument to remove the statues of Christopher Columbus. A lot of yelling, but not a lot of listening. I really wish both sides could come to an understanding that would make everyone happy, however, I doubt that will happen. I truly fear if the statues come down, Columbus day is removed from the calendar, all the good Italian immigrants and the generations after them will be lost to the ages.

We will truly forget where we came from.

Remembering a Selfless Doctor

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to spread and take the lives of people we love, I want to share with you the story of someone special to me – Dr. Michael G. Giuliano. On Saturday he lost his life to COVID-19.

DrGiuliano

Dr. Michael G. Giuliano

Dr. G. was my doctor since I was 20 years old (trust me, that means it has been a long time). When my husband (then boyfriend) needed a doctor, I told him to go see Dr. G. They quickly became buddies. It was never an appointment – it was always a visit. He was available to his patients, no matter the time or the day. He treated every patient like family.

As word spread of this profound loss, patients shared stories of how he touched their family. Yesterday, a procession of police, fire, and residents passed by his office in a procession. Without fail, his wife MaryLu was at the office, continuing to help his patients, just as I’m sure he would expect. I am happy she was able to see it first-hand. I can’t imagine her feeling of loss, but I hope it gives her comfort knowing we grieve with her as a community.

At some point we’ll have to find a new family doctor. And while I’m sure the new doctor will be fine, but there will never be another Dr. G. God definitely broke the mold with him.

Rest in peace. I hope you now how many of us will miss you.