SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Members of Scotch Plains' substantial Italian American community gathered at the Municipal Building on Park Ave. Saturday morning to celebrate the man who put the Americas on the map: Christopher Columbus.

Speakers included Paul Raphael, president of the local chapter of UNICO, the Italian American service organization, Scotch Plains Mayor Al Smith, and Township Manager Al Mirabella, who was honored as "Christopher Columbus Man of the Year" by Union County in 2016. Mirabella, whose daughter is a college student in Italy, praised the accomplishments of Italian Americans and said he hopes to learn to speak Italian better. 

"In a town that is rich in tradition and Italian culture and heritage, it's great to see that we can continue to celebrate what Columbus stood for and honor his discovery of America 527 years ago," said Paul Raphael, president of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood chapter of UNICO. "Unfortunately, we are at a point where we need to fight more than ever to keep the spirit of Columbus alive."

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"We live in a society that is quick to find fault and point out the negative, and the response is to try and erase our history. If we don't protect and defend the celebration of Columbus Day, my fear is that we will ultimately lose an important part of our history" he added.

"I'm sure Columbus had his faults, as we all do, but he lived in a different time and in a different world," Raphael said. "To me, Columbus represents the values of discovery and risk that are at the heart of the American Dream."

The program took place in front of the Columbus monument, which depicts the explorer's hand holding an orange, which he used to explain that the world is round, and three sails depicting his ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. 

The event also featured the singing of the Italian national anthem by Romano Del Roio, who came to Scotch Plains from Montazzoli, Italy, and the reading of essays written by two students at St. Bart's Academy on what Columbus means to them. is Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s only free daily local news source. Sign up for our free daily eNewsletter and “Like” us on Facebook and twitter @SPF_TAP. Download the free TAPinto App for iPhone or Android.