Explore the party: Columbus Parade celebrates Italian-American culture in Bensonhurst

Italian battalion: The 38th annual Columbus Parade will celebrate Italian-American culture with floats and a block party along 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst on Oct. 12.
Federation of Italian American Organizations of Brooklyn

It’s la dolce vita — in Bensonhurst!

A parade celebrating Italian-American culture will return to Bensonhurst on Oct 12 for the 38th time — and this year it will add its first-ever block party to the festivities. The annual Brooklyn Columbus Parade will turn a stretch of 18th Avenue into a red, white, and green festa to honor the 15th-century Italian explorer, while highlighting positive Italian-American heritage since then, according to the head of the organization behind the parade.

“Originally the idea was very much to fight the image that Italian-Americans were at best workers in the pizza parlors or at worst joining gangs,” said Jack Spatola, president of the Federation of Italian-American Organizations of Brooklyn. “Rather than accentuate the pizzaiolo — with all respect to the pizzaiolo, everybody loves pizza — we should also highlight educators, lawyers, and public servants.”

The parade will start at 61st Street and proceed down 18th Avenue, with community leaders and Italian-themed floats marching for 26 blocks until they reach Benson Avenue. There the marchers can relax at a block party, which will feature stands from local businesses, music, and food, including cannolis made on-site.

The Italian-American community in the southern Brooklyn neighborhood has been on decline for at least half a century, with Asian-American and Hispanic neighbors moving in, but Spatola said that is part of the ever-changing nature of Brooklyn. The Columbus Day Parade offer a chance for new and old residents to come together, he added.

“It’s nothing new, it just goes up and down — the Italian-American community has always been in the mix. There was a time when that was represented by a higher number but now it’s less,” said Spatola, a retired principal who was born and raised in the neighborhood. “We want families of all different backgrounds to join in.”

The parade happens during Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month and two days before the state-recognized Columbus Day. The day has drawn controversy in recent times, with some states recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day to pay homage to the Native Americans who were killed by European colonists after the explorer landed on the shores of the New World.

Spatola said that while Columbus is a contested figure, he is still pivotal for Italian-Americans.

“We have to take look at Christopher Columbus as a symbol that represents the Italian-American community of yesterday and today,” he said. “The point of the matter is to take history in context.”

“The 38th Annual Brooklyn Columbus Parade” [18th Avenue beween 61st Street and Benson Avenue in Bensonhurst, (718) 259–2828, www.fiaobrooklyn.org]. Oct. 12 at 1 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.

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