SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – At a council meeting earlier this month, South Plainfield Mayor Matt Anesh proclaimed October 2018 as Italian Heritage Month in the borough and, on Monday morning, borough residents, local dignitaries, community organization representatives, and members of the Plainfield’s Chapter of UNCIO came together to celebrate Columbus Day 2018. The Oct. 8 event, held at the senior center, featured guest speakers as well as the ceremonial raising of the Italian flag and a wreath dedication. 

Debbie Boyle, a member of the South Plainfield Board of Education and chair of the borough’s Columbus Day event, served as master of ceremonies and Father John Paul Alvarado,pastor of Sacred Heart Church, delivered the invocation. 

“As we gather today, we remember a person, Christopher Columbus…whatever the location, the people, whatever the language, he was one with them,” said Alvarado. “It is in that spirit that we remember not only a person, but a time and a date – the 12th of October – the day when, somewhere in the Caribbean, as the midst lifted, he probably would have said ‘thank you Jesus, there’s land.’” 

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During Monday’s ceremony, John DeAndrea and Freddie Esposito, representatives of the Plainfield’s Chapter of UNIC, led the flag salute, and Boyle recited from the proclamation Anesh presented at the Oct. 1 council meeting, stating, in part, that “The Americans of Italian decent play an integral role in America today, not only on the public policy area, but in all aspects of our culture.’ 

This year’s event also featured several guest speakers, including Senator Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., Congressman Frank Pallone and South Plainfield Council President Rob Bengivenga, Jr. as well as Robert Bengivenga, Sr., president of the Plainfield’s Chapter of UNICO, and Anthony Bengivenga, a member of the board of directors for both UNICO National and One Voice Coalition. 

New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District, according to Pallone, has the largest Italian population in the state and he told those gathered that immigration ‘is one of the things that makes this country great.’ “To me, Columbus Day goes way beyond Columbus…it’s the Italian-American heritage, it’s the spirit of innovation, it’s the path of immigration in this country,” said Pallone. 

“Here I am, the son of Irish immigrants, celebrating Christopher Columbus,” said Diegnan. “That is what American is all about. We celebrate what makes us different.”

Bengivenga, Jr. spoke about how the annual Columbus Day ceremony is an important tradition. “All the traditions that we have, the ones passed down from generation to generation, are instilled in me and it is important for us to continue those traditions and not lose them,” he said, adding, “Traditions are what bring families and communities together.”

Anthony Bengivenga, a member of the board of directors for both UNICO National and One Voice Coalition, serving as keynote speaker announced that this past weekend, New York Governor Cuomo officially declared the statue in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle as a historical landmark. Additionally, he spoke of Columbus’ voyage and how Columbus paved the way for other explorers, including many from Italy.

“Today, we stand so proud of the contributions of the early Italian explorers and all others and we recognize the contributions all our Italian immigrants made to our great country…” said Anthony Bengivenga, adding, “Let us stand proud and never forget these great contributions of our ancestors.”

“Thank you to everyone who came out today,” said Bengivenga, Sr., president of the Plainfield’s Chapter of UNICO. He invited attendees to come outside for the official raising of the Italian flag and a wreath dedication, noting that inclement weather, like Monday in South Plainfield, did not deter Columbus. “He didn't turn around and go back…so I am glad everyone came today.”

The 2018 Columbus Day event concluded with a benediction delivered by Father Alvarado. “We remember pre-Columbian or after Columbus. He is a mark in time…” said the pastor. “For Christopher Columbus, there was something that happened that set in motion a whole change in history and it is what we are about today…”

Following the ceremony, many attendees and UNICO members boarded a bus headed for Fifth Avenue for their annual tradition of marching in New York City’s Columbus Day Parade. Boyle extended thanks to all those who attended and assisted with the event, including the South Plainfield Suburban Women’s Club; Kelly Daley and her mother, Anne, for donating the wreath; and Georgeann Cochrane for the wreath's sash. 

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