People gathered on the sides of streets in North Beach on Sunday, October 7th to watch the 150th annual Italian Heritage Parade which was in full swing by 12:30 under clear blue skies.
Washington Square, the heart of Little Italy, was surrounded by tables hosting families eating while watching the floats, cars and marching bands crawl by. The parade ran from Washington Square all the way to Fisherman’s wharf, about one mile.
Inside Washington Square was the Italian car show, full of Ferraris glinting in the sun. It’s common for any fancy cars driving in the parade to stop every 20 feet and rev their engines for a cheering crowd.
One of these tables was reserved by Joe Ciarallo, the manager of marketing and P.R. for the parade.
“There isn’t a more significant event for the Italian-American community in San Francisco.” said Ciarallo in a phone interview a week before the parade. “This is the big annual family reunion, big event for the community. And not just for the Italian-Americans here, but people who just love Italian culture and art and food.”
Many Italian families come from all around San Francisco to North Beach to celebrate their history with food, drinks and of course the parade.
There is some controversy surrounding the Italian Heritage Parade because of its celebration of Cristopher Columbus. Every year there is a large float shaped like a boat with someone dressed as Columbus riding it through the parade. Many people have conflicting opinions on the celebration of Columbus.
“My kids will say ‘Columbus was a mean guy’, and I’ll say ‘well, Columbus founded America.’” said a parade spectator, Nicole Guera. “We’re celebrating the founding of America. I don’t let the negative overshadow the celebration.”
On the other end of the controversy spectrum, Sophie Stimola thinks of the parade and Columbus day as separate. “I wish that it [the parade] would do something to acknowledge that controversy. I’m not sure that it does.” said Sophia Stimola, a local and attendee of the parade for 31 years.
Some consider Columbus the anchor of history for Italians in America, and as Anthony Stimola put it: “It’s the first thing that was ours in this country.”
The parade also features a Queen Isabella and her court. Each year, judges choose a young Italian-American women who’s involved in the community and who they consider outstanding. They honer her and a court of other similar young women on a decked out float in the parade.
“It’s basically one of the primary focal points of the parade.” said Ciarallo. The elected Queen and her court participate in civic duties and events throughout the year to promote Italian heritage and the parade every October.
“It’s a great way to bring people to North Beach, to the community, to help support local business.” said Ciarallo.
Controversy aside, the Italian Heritage Parade is a grand and colorful celebration of culture and history for the Italian-American community and the rest of San Francisco.
“It’s always good to see community come together on this level.” said Anthony Stimola. “It’s ours.”
Additional information about the Parade and organizers can be found here: https://sfitalianheritage.org/