SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The South Plainfield community, including representatives from the state, town, school district, and local organizations, gathered at borough hall on the morning of Oct. 14 for the Plainfield’s Chapter of UNICO’s annual Columbus Day celebration. 

“Today, we are celebrating Columbus Day and also the Italian heritage,” Robert Bengivenga, Sr., a member and past president of UNICO who, along with Debbie Boyle served as co-chair of this year’s event, said in his welcoming remarks. 

Bengivenga stated that the organization has been hosting the Columbus Day ceremony for 49 years and shared information about the Italian explorer’s journey and discovery of America. 

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“He left Spain to come to the Americas with three ships…in total, 124 men…coming across an ocean not knowing where they were going…they were hoping to discover a new route [to India] and here they discover America.”

According to Congressman Frank Pallone, one of the guest speakers at Monday’s ceremony, the holiday is about celebrating the ‘spirit of Columbus’ and other Italians – such as Galileo, Di Vinci, Marconi, and others. “[Columbus] opened up this whole new age of discovery and exploration and innovation, which is so important and why should continue to celebrate it…” said Pallone. “Without that innovation and willingness to look at different ways to do things, we wouldn't be the country we are today.”

Anthony Bengivenga, a member of UNICO and current district governor for UNICO District 10, also echoed that sentiment, stating that other explorers, including Giovanni da Verrazzano, the Cabot brothers, and Amerigo Vespucci, to name a few, were from Italy. “Columbus not only opened a pathway to this hemisphere, but also opened a pathway to other explorers,” he said. 

Senator Patrick Diegnan of South Plainfield discussed how late Renato Biribin established the local Columbus Day celebration 49 years ago and described it as a ‘celebration of America.’ “That is what Columbus was all about and that is what the Italian-American community is all about,” said the senator. 

“We all know Christopher Columbus was a great explorer,” said Councilman Derryck White, adding that while doing some research on Columbus, he came across the following quote: ‘You can’t cross an ocean until you have the courage to take your eyes off the shore.’ 

“It made me pause because although he is known for discovering this great land and for all of his exploration, he still realized that you had to leave something behind to move forward,” said White. “So today, as we remember Christopher Columbus, I would like all of us to think about him a little bit differently and think about the fact that we are people who want to move forward and need just a little bit of wind behind their sails…We honor Christopher Columbus’ great discoveries that way, by helping others move forward, advance, and become all that they can be.” 

At the Oct. 7 council meeting, South Plainfield Mayor Matt Anesh proclaimed October 2019 as Italian Heritage Month in the borough and, during Monday’s ceremony, Boyle read an excerpt from the proclamation, stating, “The Americans of Italian decent play an integral role in America today, not only on the public policy arena, but in all aspects of our culture.’

The 2019 Columbus Day ceremony concluded outside borough hall with the raising of the Italian flag and a wreath dedication; the wreath was donated by resident Kelly Daley and adorned with a UNICO sash and Italian flags by Georgeann Cochrane of Mohn’s Florist. Following the event, many boarded a bus headed for Fifth Avenue to continue their annual tradition of marching in New York City’s Columbus Day Parade. 

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