WEST ORANGE, NJ – Members of the Orange/West Orange Chapter of UNICO National, West Orange residents and other township dignitaries—including council members Jerry Guarino, Joe Krakoviak and Michelle Casalino, Fire Chief and UNICO member Anthony Vecchio, Assemblyman John McKeon and more—were among those in attendance at the Township of West Orange’s first Italian flag-raising held last week at town hall.
“We’re going to be raising the Italian flag in order to honor Columbus Day,” said UNICO member Frank Paolercio, Sr. “If it wasn’t for [Christopher Columbus], we may not be here [in America].”
The flag used during the ceremony was provided by the local UNICO chapter, which is part of a national non-profit Italian-American service organization known for its community involvement ranging from completing several special projects around town to providing scholarships and funding for cancer research, mental health and Cooley’s Anemia.
“[UNICO has been] providing much needed scholarships to our students for generations,” said Casalino, a fellow UNICO member. “They have also funded our Italian Language program at West Orange High School and many other projects which have benefitted our community.”
Paolercio added that although UNICO is “an Italian-American organization,” the local chapter “gives to everybody.”
“Being a part of UNICO, we celebrate our Italian heritage, which is so important to us; but it is also important that we’re Italian and we’re also Italian-American,” said Orange/West Orange Chapter President Ken Broderick. “This country has granted us the right to meet freely and enjoy our Italian heritage.”
Mayor Robert Parisi, who is also a member of the local organization, said the township is “always thrilled to host these flag raisings to celebrate the rich culture that we find here in our community.”
“Today is an Italian flag raising to celebrate Italian heritage month, [but also] today’s a fun day because of my Italian upbringing,” said Parisi, who took the opportunity to talk about his Italian grandfather coming into America through Ellis Island at 23 years old. “He picked up and left Italy and came here…It’s kind of funny as a parent, when you think of 23 year olds who can’t go two towns away without GPS, to think that my grandfather and many of our fathers and grandfathers just picked up and went to another country and started over again without speaking the language.”
The mayor went on to describe his grandfather, who worked as a tailor, as a “very typical and stereotypical Italian,” drinking wine, eating macaroni and sausage, and wearing the shirts he made with a tie every day of his life until he passed away at 88 years old.
“But what I think is neat in thinking back to my grandfather: he didn’t speak a lot of English and he was a proud Italian, but he was proud to make America his home,” said Parisi. “I think he would be not only happy that his youngest grandchild became a mayor of this town; I think he would be thrilled that nearly 100 years since he left Italy to come to this country, his ancestors and people are still celebrating the Italian culture in America. I thank UNICO for honoring the memory of people like my grandfather—people like your grandfathers and fathers—and thank you for keeping the Italian heritage alive.”
Following the mayor’s speech, Casalino said she was reminded of the journey her own grandparents took from Italy before deciding to settle in New Jersey.
“My father’s parents had been factory workers with my grandmother—actually working in the Edison Battery Building in the late 50s and 60s—and she fell in love with West Orange,” she said. “It’s because of [that] our family had moved here when I was four years old...
“It makes you think when you have these celebrations and the pride of coming from Italy and their pride of being American citizens. Now I have the opportunity here, where she had worked in the Edison Factory, sitting as a councilwoman able to have input in the redevelopment of that site. It makes me proud.”