Italian heritage was on the march up Fifth Avenue on Monday as thousands turned out for New York City’s 75th annual parade paying homage to 15th-century explorer Christopher Columbus.
Parade-goers waved Italy's red, white and green flag and cheered as thousands walked, danced and sang from about 44th to 72nd streets.
Speaking before he joined the parade procession, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he considered Columbus Day, and statues in the city dedicated to the explorer, a testament to the contributions of Italian-Americans.
“I think the statue as a representation of respect for the Italian-American community is very important,” said Cuomo, who has resisted attempts to remove statues citywide honoring Columbus. “I think you can find many flaws in Christopher Columbus himself.”
The Italian navigator — who is erroneously credited with discovering America — has become politically toxic in some circles because of his complicated history. Critics have argued Columbus doesn't deserve celebrating because he opened the way for colonization, exploitation, and the importation of deadly diseases to the New World.
Supporters of Columbus have described him as a pioneering man of his time who shouldn't be judged by 2019 standards.
In some parts of the United States, Columbus Day has been redubbed Indigenous People’s Day, in honor of those who lived in the Americas after Columbus, as the rhyme goes, in 1492 sailed the ocean blue.
Controversy aside, Cuomo and dozens of politicians marched in the parade, including Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D- Glen Cove) and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat.
In front of the entourage with Mayor Bill de Blasio — who is of half-Italian ancestry and traces his roots to the Italian town, Sant'Agata de' Goti — was the marching band from Westbury's W.T. Clarke High School, which had about 123 banner holders, drummers, trombonists, tubists and other student participants, said color-guard instructor Alexandria deVries.
“There’s nothing like marching down Fifth Avenue, with all the skyscrapers,” said deVries, adding that Monday was the marching band's third parade in the past few days, including a Columbus parade in Huntington.
Cheering on the students — and smartphone shooting — from behind the police barricades was the family of ninth-grader Sophia Ruperto, 13, of Westbury.
“Her being a girl trumpet player and marching in an Italian, traditional parade — it means a lot to us,” said her dad, Gennaro, 41, who works in construction, and brought his wife as well as Sophia’s younger sisters and cousin.
Ed Norris, a Glen Cove High School chorus teacher, chaperoned about 130 in the school’s marching band and the kick line and cheerleaders.
“The kids really get a kick out of coming into the city and performing for the hometown crowd,” he said, as the group approached 57th Street.
Twins Nicole and Erica Gallo, fifth-graders from Northport, came to the parade with their mom, Maria, 45, a nurse.
“What are we here for?” Maria Gallo asked her daughters. “We’re celebrating Italian culture and heritage.”
She said the family fondly recalls a trip to Italy when her daughters were younger. Nicole said she loves the food cooked by her grandma, "Nonna" who lives with the family: gnocchi, homemade pasta, Stromboli, zeppoli.
“Nonna always tries to stuff me with as much food as she can!” said Nicole, 10.