Anger, con­fu­sion and some ‘cheer­ing’ among local Ital­ian Amer­i­cans

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY STE­FANO ES­POS­ITO, STAFF REPORTER ses­pos­ito@sun­times.com | @sle­spos­ito Con­tribut­ing: Evan F. Moore

A sense of deep “hurt” and con­fu­sion swept through the city’s Ital­ian Amer­i­can com­mu­nity Fri­day, hours af­ter the re­moval of two Christo­pher Colum­bus stat­ues in the dark of night.

“Are we happy about it? Ab­so­lutely not. As a com­mu­nity, we are ex­tremely hurt,” said Ser­gio Gian­grande, pres­i­dent of the Joint Civic Com­mit­tee of Ital­ian Amer­i­cans, which is head­quar­tered in Stone Park.

Gian­grande said he’d been re­as­sured by Mayor Lori Light­foot’s re­cent com­ments that she had no plans to tear down stat­ues of his­tor­i­cal fig­ures.

“I don’t un­der­stand what changed,” Gian­grande said. “Are we giv­ing in to the vi­o­lence of the left at this point? ... This was a de­ci­sion made with­out us. We were not at the ta­ble to dis­cuss what other op­tions there were.”

Just last week, Gian­grande sent let­ters to the mayor and to the head of the city’s Amer­i­can In­dian Cen­ter propos­ing a plaque be in­stalled op­po­site the Ar­rigo Park statue that would de­tail the “many ver­sions of the his­tory of Colum­bus.”

Gian­grande said Fri­day he un­der­stands Light­foot’s con­cerns about safety and the vi­o­lence that has erupted in re­cent weeks around the Grant Park statue, but said there should have been an open “di­a­logue.”

The Knights of Colum­bus, a Catholic ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion, feels the same way.

“Our so­ci­ety must have a civil de­bate on these is­sues and not set­tle dif­fer­ences with mob vi­o­lence and de­struc­tion, which we are see­ing not only against Colum­bus but other his­tor­i­cal fig­ures and even Amer­i­can pa­tri­ots like Abra­ham Lin­coln and Ulysses S. Grant,” Joseph Cullen, a spokesman for the group, told the Sun-Times.

Robert Al­le­grini, who is prom­i­nent in the local Ital­ian Amer­i­can com­mu­nity, said he sup­ports the na­tional dis­cus­sion about pro­mot­ing greater di­ver­sity in “all as­pects of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.”

“The re­moval of im­por­tant Ital­ian-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity sym­bols in the dead of night — with no pre­vi­ous demo­cratic dis­cus­sion on the matter — cer­tainly does not pro­mote that di­ver­sity,” said Al­le­grini, the ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Ital­ian Amer­i­can Foun­da­tion. He said he was speak­ing on his own be­half and not the foun­da­tion’s.

Al­le­grini said the mayor’s or­der to re­move the stat­ues took him by sur­prise.

“Clearly, she had a change of heart,” he said.

Al­le­grini said he wor­ries about what might be the next tar­get of the anti-Colum­bus move­ment, in­clud­ing the city’s an­nual pa­rade.

“There are cer­tainly those out there who would like to see that hap­pen,” he said. “That is quite pos­si­bly next on the agenda of those who are anti-Colum­bus.”

But Gabriel Piemonte, founder and pres­i­dent of the Ital­ian Amer­i­can Her­itage So­ci­ety of Chicago, said he was among the city’s Ital­ian Amer­i­cans “cheer­ing” the re­moval of stat­ues ded­i­cated to the Ital­ian ex­plorer. He said it’s now time to move on.

“We want to turn a page,” Piemonte said. “We want to talk about the ac­tual his­tory and cul­ture in our com­mu­ni­ties, ... and not some­one who lived 500 years ago and in a way that none of us con­sider ad­mirable.”

TOP: The base of where the Christo­pher Colum­bus statue in Grant Park stood is fenced off on Fri­day. ABOVE: A fenced-off area Fri­day around what is left of a Colum­bus mon­u­ment in Ar­rigo Park in Lit­tle Italy.

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