Angelo Vivolo (President of the Columbus Heritage Coalition)

Angelo Vivolo: in difesa di Colombo, degli italoamericani e dell'Italia

Mar 02, 2020 4198 ITA ENG

Our readers know that Columbus Day is the only theme on which We the Italians takes sides with decision and pride, because we believe that it is unhistorical and unfair to attack this great Italian pioneer, and because we believe that it is also an attack against the Italian American community, for which we have love and esteem.

This is why we are happy to host on We the Italians Angelo Vivolo: a friend, a great Italian American, a successful person who fights and is wonderfully committed to this issue, so much so that he has been President of the Columbus Citizens' Foundation and then gave birth to the Columbus Heritage Coalition, which brings together many associations and more than 20,000 people in defense of Christopher Columbus. We are and will always be admirers and supportive of Angelo and his activity.

Angelo, first of all, please tell us something about your story. You are a proud Italian American and an example of how the Italian DNA finds success in the American business friendly environment… 

My father immigrated from Italy, while my mother was Italian American. They were both very proud of their roots and were typical of their generation, believing in hard work, honesty, integrity with a devotion to family and God. They were proponents of getting a good education. With this foundation and the opportunities that America presented, we were able to succeed.

Fortunately the American dream still exist, especially in today’s environment where the United States is in need of people with a good education and those same values. I believe the potential is limitless. In a country of more than 300 million people with a 3.5% unemployment rate, there is tremendous opportunity to be successful. 

My roots are in the restaurant business, my parents opened a restaurant before I did but to be frank with you, this was not my goal. I was a teacher for almost 10 years in NY. Then, I decided I wanted to go into the restaurant business but when I started, which was over 40 years ago, there was a different attitude in reference to dining out and Italian food started to be appreciated: therefore it was the right time to open Italian American restaurants and I opened 5 of them. My success was also the one of Italy because finally a recognition was given to Italian cuisine. However, after 42 years of work I decided it was the time to enjoy the fruits of my work and spending time with my family. Education played an important role in helping me to become a successful businessman. Furthermore, the USA offers a lot of work possibilities so there are big opportunities for Italians here.

You are founder and President of the Columbus Heritage Coalition. What is your mission and what are the activities of this group?

In 2017 in New York City there was a challenge to do away with the statue of Christopher Columbus that was erected and paid for by Italian immigrants in 1891. This statue in Columbus Circle was a symbol of the great discovery of the new world by Columbus. Very fittingly inscribed on the statue are the words “to the world he gave a world”. For many historians his discovery is one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of the world. Unfortunately he is wrongfully blamed for all of the evils that proceeded his discovery.

I recently coauthored with Aileen Riotto Sirey an op ed for the New York Post that goes into detail about the desire by many to use Columbus as a scapegoat for all of the untrue negative reasons. The attack on Columbus and the attempt of removing his statue at Columbus Circle had a silver lining. The Italian American community was outraged and became united to preserve this statue as a symbol of the accomplishments of a great Italian. Out of this challenge, the Columbus Heritage Coalition was created. Fortunately we were able to have the Columbus statue in NYC to be recognized as a New York State and national monument that will stand proudly in perpetuity at Columbus Circle.

The other major challenge is the movement to do away with and replace Columbus Day in many communities across the USA. The Columbus Heritage Coalition is working to counter these actions. We are allowed as a 501 (c4) organization to challenge politically these actions and we are in the forefront to preserve Columbus Day.  

A section of your website is dedicated to Scholastic Lesson Plans. I think you are right, this cultural fight has to start in the schools…

We believe very strongly that the challenges to Columbus Day must be met by educating the public and counter acting the false negative narrative with historical truths about Columbus. In that light, the major Italian American Organizations, the Columbus Citizens’ Foundation, UNICO, Orders Sons and Daughters of America, National Italian American Foundation and Italians Sons and Daughters of America are united and, along with other private foundations have each made a major financial commitment to support the newly formed National Columbus Education Foundation, a 501(c3). The National Columbus Education Foundation will pursue educational means to have a factual correct history of Christopher Columbus become part of the curriculum of all schools. This is to be accomplished through a serious program by respected historians.

You also launched Emojitalia, a new way to use tools brought by the new technologies to help the Italian American community…

The idea of the app was born when I was president of the Columbus Citizens’ Foundation  and I decided to create a special committee composed by some important people such as Frank Bisignagno, Joe Plumeri,  Kenneth Langone, Mario Gabelli: Maria Bartiromo was the Chairman. We discussed one of the most burning issues in the US: the movement to replace Columbus Day, and started to think about ways in which we could reach people, even the youngest, in order to re-evaluate the historical figure of Columbus. Frank proposed the idea of an app giving people the opportunity to learn more about this character. It took almost one year to develop this app but we thought that it was worth it because nowadays people send many emojis while writing messages, therefore we created 50 emojis that represent typical aspects of the Italian culture. The emojis are a funny expedient to attract people, but they are just part of an app that also gives the chance to people to express their support to the Columbus cause, in an easy way and wherever they are. As a matter of fact, they can sign a petition or just create Italian American virtual communities that can discuss together about this issue.

The topic of Christopher Columbus is the one and only topic that sees We the Italians undoubtedly on one side. Sometimes we hope to find the possibility to have a dialogue with those who are against Columbus. Do you think that would be possible, and if so, have you met someone who wants to cancel Columbus Day but is willing to open a dialogue with those like us who want it to stay?

The key to future success is education. For too many years the Italian American community has not contested the false narrative about Columbus, and have other define who he was. It is extremely important to have an open dialogue with those people who have opposing views. The press has made this a battle between the legacy of Christopher Columbus and Indigenous people. We emphatically endorse a special day for Indigenous people but not as a replacement of Columbus Day. It is essential that we meet those who are opposed to Columbus Day. We also need the support of other ethnicities who immigrated to the US and appreciate that Columbus was the first immigrant and lead the way for all of us to arrive here and prosper. 

I'm afraid that the attacks on Columbus are not going to end anytime soon. What do you think will happen in the future? Can you imagine an America without the Federal holiday of Columbus Day? 

Unfortunately your assessment is correct, and more the reason why we must be persistent and not compromise our efforts. 

For too long the Italian American community has been very complaisant and had not realize that the number of people who would like to portray Columbus in a very negative way was increasing. What finally happened in 2017, when they were trying to get rid of the Columbus statue in Columbus Circle has led to a reunion and organization of the Italian American community in New York to fight against the false negative narrative about Columbus which was spread by people who wanted to change history and don’t know what the truth is. What we are trying to do is to educate people through the National Columbus Education Foundation, which is using all the power of social media and education system in the country to inform people of the truth about Columbus.

Furthermore, we are going to intervene also in the political aspect, discovering which party is against Columbus Day in order not to vote and support it. What we have built is a serious movement to preserve the image of Columbus and his legacy.

The Italian Americans are almost 20 million. Could Columbus - and more generally the recognition of how much he means to the Italian American community - be a topic for those who will compete for the White House this year?

The Columbus Heritage Coalition as a 501(c4) has the ability to lobby and seek out the position of those in public office when it comes to Columbus Day. I was invited to the White House when President Mattarella was here recently and President Trump said that as long as he was President there will be a Columbus Day. We must seek the position of other candidates to decide who will receive our support. 

I sincerely hope that as many readers of We the Italians as possible want to support the Columbus Heritage Coalition. How can they do that?

First and foremost I want to thank you for keeping your readers informed of our efforts and what we are up against in supporting the legacy of Christopher Columbus. I think the best way for the readers of We the Italians to support our efforts is by becoming a member of the Columbus Heritage Coalition. I would urge them to go to our website and join us. It is also a good way for them to learn about all of our current efforts. 

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