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Richmond Italian Awkwardly Afraid to Celebrate One Day of Cultural Heritage

RICHMOND, Va. Hank Palazzo, a first-generation Italian-American and new resident of Richmond, was stunned to discover that Columbus Day, previously regarded as a day of Italian-American pride, has been deemed problematic. Palazzo, originally from New Jersey, fully expected parades, potluck dinners, yelling and gesticulations, as well as a general celebration of the scores of Italians who emigrated to the United States and, despite discrimination, sought to start a new way of life.

“Columbus Day in New Jersey is a huge deal. Generally speaking, the population there is approximately 50% Italian and 50% Jewish, so pretty much every day is a holiday that revolves around food. Here in Richmond, though, not so much,” Palazzo explained.

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Greater recognition of Christopher Columbus’ crimes against native peoples has muted any attempt to celebrate Columbus Day in public. In fact, a statue of Christopher Columbus in Byrd Park has been recognized as the “Fourth Most Vandalized Statue in Richmond” by Richmond Magazine. The statue, originally a symbol of immigrant solidarity, has been consistently vandalized by pro-immigration activists, an occurrence which many have labeled “not at all ironic.”

Despite this, Palazzo has attempted to celebrate his cultural heritage, though he recognizes the controversy. “Look, I get that Columbus wasn’t the best guy. There are better Italians out there. I would have preferred Marconi, the guy who invented the radio, but it’s not my fault. Look at the bright side, at least it’s not Mussolini Day or Berlusconi Day.”

Palazzo’s Columbus Day celebration in Richmond will be a rather hastily put together and brief affair. He continued, “Well, first my ma is making some pasta, but it’s Monday so that’s a given. Instead of a parade, we might get the neighborhood to watch ‘The Godfather’ or something, which we usually reserve for Tuesdays. Then I guess we’ll throw back a few Peronis or something? Nothing major, since I kinda like my job and would prefer that my house not be vandalized.”

Palazzo remains optimistic about the place of Italian-American heritage in the culture of the Commonwealth. “Honestly, it’s actually a good sign. My family hasn’t lived here long, and our cultural heroes have already been recognized as problematic monsters. Usually that takes about 150 years, so we’re ahead of the curve. Now that’s what I call progress.”

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