Local Italian Americans to celebrate Columbus Day, Italian heritage
SHEPHERDSTOWN — For many Americans, Columbus Day is no longer a day for celebration. But for Italian Americans, the federal holiday holds special meaning, since it is the only federal holiday honoring a person of Italian descent.
Despite his poor treatment of native residents in the New World, Columbus did put Italians on the map for his discovery of a new route to the “West Indies,” which was later recognized as a completely different continent by Columbus’ contemporary and fellow Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. Although over 500 years have passed since Columbus’ discovery, local Italian Americans band together every year to celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492.
“The name ‘Columbus’ is all over our country. Our continent is named after an Italian, Amerigo Vespucci, but everything started with Columbus. He was an Italian, even though he explored under the Spanish flag when he came to America,” said Dan Di Mucci Lodge Vice President Bob Rizzo, of Shepherdstown. “Even though in a lot of places Columbus Day isn’t important anymore, we’re trying to keep him alive and kicking.”
Rizzo, who is one of the charter members of the lodge, founded in 1980, said the lodge has hosted a Columbus Day Dinner Dance since its founding. The 37th Annual Columbus Day Dinner Dance will be held on Oct. 20 from 5-11 p.m. at the Hagerstown Elks Club, featuring music by “Giovanni Live,” an Italian/American dinner buffet, dancing, door prizes and member Dr. Joe Cincinnati, of Martinsburg, as the event’s guest speaker. Cincinnati will speak of his background and family traditions growing up as an Italian American.
“Our purpose again is to keep the Italian heritage alive. Right now, we have over 100 members in the area,” Rizzo said, explaining transplants to the area have added to the organization’s original nine-member body, along with local Italians who have become more concerned with their heritage.
According to Rizzo, the event is always scheduled to hit sometime near Columbus Day, and alternates between locations in Martinsburg and Hagerstown, Maryland, to accommodate members who live in the Eastern Panhandle and Hagerstown, Maryland. The next closest lodge with the Order of Sons [and Daughters] of Italy in America is located in Frederick, Maryland.
“We alternate between here and Washington County, since we have members over there,” Rizzo said, mentioning this has always been the case with the lodge. “Originally, we started with an Italian population here in Jefferson County and Berkeley County and across the river.”
For those who want to participate in the celebration of Italian heritage in America, Rizzo said the dinner dance is open to members and non-members alike.
For more information, contact Rizzo at 304-676-5687 or Columbus Day Dinner Dance Committee members Carol Kordyak at 304-262-2337 or Maddie Carter at 304-582-9096. Tickets cost $35 per person and must be purchased no later than Oct. 5, and can be acquired through Kordyak. Dress is semi-casual to semi-formal.