Al Marotta's father immigrated to the U.S. from Italy in the 1920s, setting up a fruit and vegetable stand on Front Street in Hartford. He worked there for more than a decade, supporting his young family, before finding work at a local typewriter factory.
On Sunday, Marotta marched in the city's annual Columbus Day Parade to honor his father, and others like him, who came to America with little but their dreams.
"We are not only honoring the day [Christopher] Columbus discovered America, but our primary goal is to respect the Italian-American heritage and honor the contributions the Italians have made to the U.S. since they immigrated here," said Marotta, of Hartford, one of the parade organizers.
The parade, which began about 10:30 a.m., stretched along Franklin Avenue in the heart of the city's Italian district. Admittedly, residents said, that district is changing, with fewer families of Italian descent now living and working along the avenue. According to 2000 U.S. Census figures, between 1990 and 2000, Hartford lost half its Italian-heritage population, which dropped to 3,853.
Indeed, the parade heading south along Franklin Avenue passed Italian restaurants, pasta shops and social clubs, but there were other establishments that represented a new wave of immigrants to the South End, from Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Asia.
Although the parade is not as large as it once was, that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of participants or those lined up to watch.
"I watch every year," said Aisha Borrero, 12, who was perched on the front porch of her home with a view of the start of the parade. "I love the music and the bands. We watch until we can't see it anymore."
A few feet away, Iraida Rivera sleepily watched as bands and marchers lined up to start the festivities.
"I didn't even know they were doing this today," she said. "It's a great surprise."
The parade featured Italian American organizations, local dignitaries - Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez and Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, and Miss Connecticut, Dana Elaine Daunis of Watertown - and even a music group from Italy, dressed in elaborately festive costumes of green and gold. Other groups included more than 100 students from the New Britain High School Golden Hurricanes band, and local police and fire personnel.
Alexia Fliss, 17, a member of the New Britain band, said she didn't much care that the parade was in honor of the explorer's discovery of the Americas. But she said it has become a favorite during her four years of marching band.
"With this band, I've learned a lot about traditions," said Fliss, a senior at the school. "And this is a great tradition for us."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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