EAST HANOVER – Anthony Spadone came from South Carolina – arriving he said just prior to the quarantine – to save the statue. That would be a statue of “Cristoforo Colombo,” whose chiseled likeness gazes over Ridgedale Avenue, this town’s main drag.
Sure, Spadone conceded, there theoretically could be better representations of Italian culture than Columbus, but he said Italians have celebrated and commemorated the man from Genoa for generations and there’s no reason to stop now.
Not all agree. The George Floyd murder continues to prompt campaigns against all forms of perceived bigotry, past and present. Columbus already had moved into controversial territory, but feelings have now intensified. A petition has been circulated asking East Hanover officials to take the Columbus statue down and to stop holding the annual Columbus Day Parade. Opponents say Columbus, who of course sailed for Spain, symbolized the worst of Spanish imperialism in the “new world.”
That prompted rumors that opponents of the statue were planning a protest this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. So, the town’s considerable Italian-American community wanted to outfox them. It organized a pro-Columbus demonstration around the statue beginning at 4 p.m. Police were on hand in case there was trouble, but the anti-Columbus protest never materialized.
Spadone, who is originally from East Hanover, said he was part of the town’s Italian-American organization when the statue was erected in 1996.
Bill Agnellino, a former mayor, said the statue means “culture, achievement and pride” for Italian-Americans. He and others said it’s not meant to defend or celebrate anything else.
There were no official speakers at the event. Instead, people milled around, greeting each other, and when asked, spoke of their ethnic pride. Many driving by showed support by beeping their horns. This wasn’t exactly a political event, but there were a number of Trump baseball caps in the crowd, which at its height, numbered at least 100.
The most provocative expression was by a fellow who showed up late and began shouting that the real issue is not Columbus, but a choice between civilization and anarchy.
Most were a bit more restrained.
Tony Ferraro explained his Italian pride by saying, “Look, who built this country.”
We digress. Many people can lay claim to “building” the country. Any objective list would have to include those who led the industrial revolution in the late 1800’s to the African slaves who toiled for generations.
But such debates were not the order of the day, which also included a dash of humor.
A few people wore T-Shirts reading “Italian Lives Matter.” Below that saying was the phrase, “Cause who’s going to make the gravy.”