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Columbus Day – Appreciating all Cultures


Dear Editor,

As a country, we must seek to look for the best in others and that includes understanding that we all seek to honor our ancestors. My maternal grandfather was a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.  By 1934, the Knights had done so much for America that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a Federal Holiday.  The Knights continue philanthropy. In 2018 The Knights gave $185 million to charity and performed over 75 million man-hours of voluntary service.

The Knights of Columbus garden on Harrison Ave in New Orleans.

Contributing to the Columbus Day effort was Italian immigrant Generoso Pope. Pope arrived from Italy in 1906 at age fifteen. He became owner of Colonial Sand & Stone and a well-respected philanthropist.

The Knights were founded in 1891 to provide financial security for widows and orphans. When WWI started, the older Knights established warming huts for soldiers behind enemy lines.

Following the war, the Knights re-published books by the NAACP founder W.E.B. Debois titled “The Gift of Black Folk,” and The Jews in the Making of America by George Cohen. During this time period the KKK, which opposed Catholics, opposed the Knights.

As a show of commitment to America, Italians in New York in 1892 erected the Columbus Circle Monument.  This support followed the 1891 Italian Lynching in New Orleans. Every year, a wreath is placed on that statue in honor of those lynched.

Columbus braved the ocean seeking a safer trade route which opened immigration.  The Barbary Coast Pirates of North Africa were capturing residents and sailors from the seaside towns of Italy, Spain, and France and selling them into slavery or holding them for ransom. Columbus’s ship was attacked by pirates and sunk in 1476. He survived by swimming ashore.

On September 8, 1762 Barbary Coast pirates from Tripoli captured almost the whole village of Ustica, Sicily.  By 1800 over 1,000,000 Europeans had been captured and sold.  Thus, Columbus was chosen by the Sicilians and Italians in America as having paved a way for them to migrate.  Many settled in Ascension Parish to cut sugar cane on the lands once inhabited by the Houmas Nation. Members of Louisiana’s large Sicilian community favor the new Great River Road Museum’s exhibits showcase both Sicilian and Indigenous cultures.

Louisianans of Italian and Sicilian erected two monuments in the 1990s. One of Columbus in Baton Rouge and one of immigrants in New Orleans.

We support the concept of Indigenous People’s Day and hope that it will be on a different weekend so that we can participate in activities that honor their heritage as we offer for them to participate in our activities.  On Columbus Day the nation should reflect on the reason why FDR elected to recognize those that practice philanthropy and work to end racism. 


Charles Marsala


American Italian Federation of the Southeast

Link to Published Letter to the Editor

Response to “How Italians became ‘White’” in the New York Times on Columbus Day, opinion by Brent Staples

Christopher Columbus Statue in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Dear NY Times Editor,

The 2,180 word opinion by Brent Staples titled “How Italians became ‘White’“ is 30% truth, 30% false, and leaves out 40% of the pertinent facts.  In his closing paragraphs Mr. Staples writes: “… the full-blown Columbus myth was yet to come.” The second to last paragraph opens with “Facts aside.” His closing words are “highly politicized myth making.”  

Several readers have asked us to comment on the article.  Staples opens with his theory of Italian immigrants seeking to become “white.” That is incorrect, Italians sought to become “Americans.”

Staples concludes with the concept that Italian Immigrants “piles myth upon myth” and ‘rewrote history by casting Columbus as “the first immigrant” to our become Americans. He describes this myth: “that Columbus “discovered” a continent that was already inhabited by Native Americans.”

American-Italians provided centuries of hard work for America and philanthropy to America. We became part of the fabric of America.  That is the secret to our success and how we became accepted by other cultures with greater numbers in America.

Significant Historical errors and Omissions to the Brent Staples New York Times Opinion Piece:

Omitting the 1792 Celebration, President FDR’s role in Columbus Day, and other Recognitions

  1. A third of the way through Staples’ piece, he states: “Few who march in Columbus Day parades …. are aware of how the holiday came about or that President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed it as a one-time national celebration in 1892- in the wake of a bloody New Orleans lynching that took the lives of 11 Italian immigrants..”

Staples makes no mention of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress declaring Columbus Day in 1937 to recognize the patriotic and philanthropic deeds of the Knights of Columbus and Generoso Pope of New York.

Staples omits informing the reader that in 1792, America celebrated the 300th anniversary of Columbus landing on the continent. In that year, the Tammany Society in New York City which was also known as the Columbian Order began an celebrating Columbus Day annually.  The Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston also celebrated the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in 1792.

In 1812, Columbus Ohio was founded to honor the explorer Christopher Columbus. Today the Columbus Zoo is revered throughout the world.

During the 1850s, Genoese immigrants, some of whom had settled along the Sierra foothills in California, took up the holiday. Italian-Americans in San Francisco have celebrated Columbus Day since 1869.

In 1892, teachers, preachers, poets and politicians utilized Columbus Day’s patriotic rituals to advocate the importance of loyalty to the nation and to celebrate American social and economic progress. It was in 1892, that a Francis Bellamy, a teacher wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.  The Pledge we say today, is very similar to a desegregation chant PGT Beauregard drafted in 1873 for the Unification Movement of Louisiana. Beauregard was 25% Italian.

Staples writes: “that President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed it as a one-time national celebration in 1892.”  How could any President give orders to only celebrate anything “one time,” especially when Americans were already celebrating Columbus and Columbus Day for over 100 years.  If this is the case, then only a year later American’s violated Harrison’s decree with President FDR making that violation permanent.  

Dedication ceremonies for The World Fair: Columbian Exposition also known as the Chicago World’s Fair and Chicago Columbian Exposition were held on October 21, 1892. The centerpiece of the Fair was the large water pool which represented the long voyage Columbus took to the New World. The Fair opened in May 1893 with “Columbus and the Discovery of America” serving as a major theme.  Chicago won the right to the Exposition over many other cities.

Over 160 years later, Construction began on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1975. Columbia served for over 22 years, it completed 27 missions before disintegrating during re-entry near the end of its 28th mission, STS-107 on February 1, 2003, resulting in the deaths of all seven crew members.  Explorers for five hundred years have looked back to the orginal journey of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

In 1937, FDR and Congress decided to honor the work of the Knights of Columbus by establishing Columbus Day as a national holiday.  The KofC works included taking care of widows since the 1882, building warming huts for troops behind enemy lines in World War I, and working to reduce racism by publishing the books The Gift of Black Folk, by W. E. B. Du Bois, The Jews in the Making of America by George Cohen, and The Germans in the Making of America by Frederick Schrader. W.E.B. Du Bois was the co-founder of the NAACP.

In the 1920s, the Knights took on the KKK, which opposed Catholics. The 1920s are seen by many as the worst period of race relations in America. In 2018 the Knights donated approximately $180 Million dollars and 75 million service hours.  Few who write editorials about Columbus Day are willing to include this part of the history in their opinion pieces.

Recognizing the Entrepreneurial Spirit and Lifestyle of New Orleans Sicilians and Italians that was Embraced by Americans

  • Midway through his opinion, Staples focus moves to Louisiana and he writes: “Italian immigrants were welcomed into Louisiana after the Civil War… Louisiana’s romance with Italian labor began to sour when the new immigrants balked at low wages and dismal working conditions. That statement is either false in part.  

Our research comes up with the following facts.  Italians were happy to work the plantations and realized that within four years, they could save enough to leave the plantation, buy land, and open a business. Italians were willing to unload ships at the docks of New Orleans for lower costs that competitors, this led to tension on the docks during a strike by others for higher wages. The Italians kept working.

By 1920 Italians owned 50% of all grocery stores in Louisiana. The Sicilians introduced and imported lemons, mandarin oranges, and pasta to America.  By the 1890s, Americans had fallen in love with pasta. When the Dingley Tariff Act of 1897 placed high tariffs on importing pasta, Sicilians responded with opening eleven pasta factories in the French Quarter.  During this era, Progresso Soups and Luxury Pasta were started in New Orleans by entrepreneurial Sicilians and Italians.

In 1915, Jass Musician Nick Larocca was hired from New Orleans to play in Chicago. Larocca’s Orginal Dixieland Jass Band went to New York in 1916. From there the name on his albums changed to JASZ and finally to JAZZ. In 1917, The Orginal Dixieland Jass Band recorded the “Liverly Stable Blues,” which sold over 1,000,000 copies.  Nick Larocca’s dad had brought his coronet with him when he migrated from Salaparuta Sicily in the 1880s.

The coronet had been invented in France in the 1830s and became the centerpiece of the “Sicilian Sound” during the post-unification era of Italy which started in 1861.  Thus by 1920, word was out in America to visit New Orleans for food and music in an area now known as “Little Palermo.” Two decades after Nick Larocca, Louis Prima went to New York and the “Swing Era” was born. From there Prima was a key player in establishing Las Vegas in the 1950s.

In the 1960s, New Orleans Mayor Victor Schiro worked with Walt Disney to create the New Orleans area in Disneyland. Schiro worked with other to bring the Saints Football team to New Orleans, the Superdome to start construction, open Mardi Gras to tourism, integrate schools, and have New Orleans chosen to build the booster rocket for the Apollo Moon Mission.

Schiro’s accomplishments in New Orleans when added to Fiorello Henry La Guardia’s accomplishments in New York demonstrate the major threads Sicilians and Italians have placed into America’s cloth.

Even as far back as 1804, when Salvador Catalano of Palermo Sicily became America’s first international War Hero when he piloted the ship of Stephen Decatur into Tripoli during the Barbary Coast War. President Thomas Jefferson rewarded Catalano with U S Citizenship. By 1809 Catalano had the position of Master of Sails and held it until 1846. Catalano married Martha Cabery, the sister of Washington D.C. Mayor Thomas Cabery.   

Omitting the Barbary Coast Pirates in motivating Columbus’ Journey

Salvador Catalano and Stephen Decatur’s efforts of 1804 invite more analysis as to the purpose of Columbus journey. One ‘myth” is Columbus’ had the orginal idea the world was round, when others thought the world was flat.  Columbus main motivation in sailing West was the piracy of the Barbary Coast Pirates of North Africa, who captured cargo and made slaves of sailors. Columbus was on a ship that was attacked and sunk in 1476 by pirates.   

From 1450 to 1800 it is estimated that over 1,200,000 civilians of southern Europe were captured by Barbary Coast Pirates and sold into slavery. On September 8, 1762 pirates from Tunisia captured the whole Sicilian Town of Ustica and sold the residents into slavery.

Thus, for many Columbus became the inspiration for their desire to explore.

Omitting the 1891 1891 Lynching History with the New York Times Headlines

  • Staples spent considerable time on the lynching of Italians in 1891 but left out the 2019 apology by Mayor Cantrell in New Orleans. Murdered in the infamous lynching of 1891 in New Orleans was J.P. Macheca, who had built a successful stevedore company on the docks. Following the lynching, an ordinance was passed prohibiting Italians from working the docks. As a result, Italians moved upriver to Kenner, Louisiana and established new stevedore businesses. 

In New York, Columbus Circle was erected in 1892 to display the commitment to America of Italian Americans.  To this day, a wreath is laid at the statue every year in honor of those lynched in 1891. In 2019 during a ceremony, Mayor Latoya Cantrell of New Orleans apologized for the lynching, which involved then Mayor Shakspeare.

During the 2019 ceremony in New Orleans, Honorary Consul Frank Maselli stated that Italians had long ago forgiven those that did the lynching and that today, Italians do business with the descendants of those that were involved in the lynching of 1891.  Forgiveness, not myth, is how Italians became Americans.

Italians even forgive the New York Times, which wrote on March 15, 1891. “CHIEF HENNESSY AVENGED; ELEVEN OF HIS ITALIAN ASSASSINS LYNCHED BY A MOB. AN UPRISING OF INDIGNANT CITIZENS IN NEW-ORLEANS — THE PRISON DOORS FORCED AND THE ITALIAN MURDERERS SHOT DOWN.”  However, when asked in 2019, the New York Times refused to apologize for this headline.

Touring New Orleans and Video Interviews

Our information comes from extensive research. We have developed a free Tour App called “New Orleans Insider Tours, Little Palermo” for 50 stops in New Orleans plus eight 30-minute playlists of video on the Sicilian Migration to Louisiana posted on the You Tube Channel “AWE News.” Topics include the 1891 Lynching plus the contributions of Italians to American in sports, farm produce, military service, business, entertainment, health, and philanthropy.

In New Orleans and Baton Rouge Louisiana, during the 1990s Italians and Sicilians erected two monuments along the Mississippi River. Both were sculptured by Franco Alessandrini. One is of Christopher Columbus and one is to all immigrants.  Tourists take pictures in front of these monuments all day long, at times they are immigrants with the same hope that Italians and Sicilians had during their migration to America during the 1800s and early 1900s.

Positive Evolution

As a planet and civilization, we have been evolving since the beginning of time.  Today most have better concepts that 1492.  In other parts, including America, Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery still exist.  We can look to the Italian Freedom Fighter and Liberator General Giuseppe Garibaldi who in the Fall of 1861 advised President Abraham Lincoln to make the war in America a noble cause to end slavery as opposed to Free Trade and States Rights issues which sparked the conflict.

At some point America should honor Giuseppe Garibaldi for that advise.


Charles Marsala


American Federation of the Southeast

AWE News makes 8 half-hour videos on Sicilian Migration to New Orleans

AWE News is producing stories on Italian Chefs, Musicians, Sports Celebrities, St. Joseph’s Day, Festivals, the Italian Brigade of New Orleans, Republic Day of 1946, and more.

www.AWE.News has produced eight playlists of 30 minutes each on the Sicilian Migration to New Orleans; each playlist has 4-6 segments.

Visit the “Awe News” YouTube Channel to learn about the history of the Sicilian Migration to New Orlerans and Louisiana. Plans are being made for TV airing in 2020.

Free “Little Palermo” Mobile Device Tour App for New Orleans


The lower area of the French Quarter has been called “Little Palermo.” Now a free self-guided tour app launched by “New Orleans Insider Tours” provides over forty points of historic interest in the French Quarter and ten spots outside New Orleans as Sicilians migrated. From 1885-1915 over 60,000 Sicilians arrived in New Orleans.

Each spot has GPS, photos, audio, and text. Many spots have video interviews with the chef, sculptor, or other person connected to the site.

Numerous antidotes about the Sicilian Migration are told in the App. Examples: The first individual cocktail in America was made in New Orleans at the Jewel of the South Bar by Joseph Santini. A new bar has opened in honor of maker, where you can have that drink.

During the Civil War in April 1862, for seven days as the Confederates left and the Union Army had not yet arrived, The Mayor turned to The Italian Brigade to act as policemen and save New Orleans from looting and burning as was the case in Algiers.

After the Dingley Tarriff of 1897 was passed on importing pasta, elevan pasta factories opened in the French Quarter.

In April 1862. A Sicilian was the pilot of 1804 War Hero Capt. Stephen Decatur’s ship that sailed into Tripoli during the First Barbary Coast War.

Sicilians began arriving in New Orleans in the 1820s. From 1885-1915 over 60,000 arrived in New Orleans. Many to take jobs on the Sugar Cane Plantations.

The app can be downloaded by a QR Code. It is part of ten tours offered by New Orleans Insider Tours.

Scan the above Quick Response QR Code into your phone to download the tour.

Link to desktop version of Tour App for New Orleans Insider Tours “Little Palermo.”

Link to Desktop version of New Orleans Insider Tours Little Palermo App

Over forty stops of Italian & Sicilian interest in the New Orleans French Quarter.
Ten stops of Sicilians and Italian Interest outside of New Orleans are part of the self-guided tour.

The 133 Anniversary of the Contessa Entellina Society

The Contessa Entellina Banquet was attended by over 130 people including (left to right)  Charles Marsala, Tim Walker, Sal Serio, Pete Lamanna, Kevin Centanni, Claude Todaro, Joe Battaglia, Ralph Abraham, Dianne Abraham, Philip Capitano.

Louisiana and the Southeast offer numerous ways to maintain our Italian and Sicilian heritages. With approximately twenty organizations and several feast and national holidays to celebrate all the wonderful things of being Italian and Sicilian.  In the 1890s several Societies were formed to provide a community for members. Later these groups built the Italian Hall on Esplanade Ave. in New Orlerans.

In the 1930s, Charles V. Marsala Sr. helped organized six clubs in Northern Louisiana, some of these clubs were called the Progressive Men’s Clubs.  The American Italian Federation of the Southeast is an umbrella organization designed to provide communication between member organizations and represent the AIFED at the national level on issues such as maintaining Columbus Day. 

We would like to re-open an organization in Monroe and open establish an organization in the New Orleans area.  We have contacted the Sons and Daughters of Italy and they are interested to help us. Currently the Sons and Daughters has 750,000 members.

A spring convention is being planned.  For more information www.AIFEd.org

From Sicilian POWs to the LSU Tigers


The LSU Tigers will be playing for a National Championship on January 13, 2020.  The “Tigers” name comes from an concept by Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat while he was in Sicily in 1860 fighting with General Garibaldi to unify Italy. Wheat and Garibaldi had landed in Marsala on May 11 taking over 12,000 Sicilians as Prisoners of War.

Wheat sensed war was coming to America and suggested Garibaldi allow him to take 2,000 men to New Orleans to fight as Confederates. This would make Wheat a General and remove the burden to Garibaldi of feeding them as POWs.

Six ships of hand-to-hand combat battle veterans left Sicily with POWs for New Orleans.  The Louisiana Tigers would eventually transfer under General Lee with almost all dying in battle. The LSU Song “Tiger Rag” was written in 1915 by New Orleanian Nick LaRocca of Sicilian Ancestry. Larocca liked to write songs with “animal” noises, such as the horse sound in “Livery Stable Blues.” His band was the “Orginal Dixieland Jass Band.” He changed the name of the music in November 1917 to Jazz.

LSU Tiger flags on the top of the Lee Circle column. The men who fought under Lee were called the Louisiana Tigers. The idea was developed while US Army Major Wheat was in Sicily in 1860.
Sicily Island in north Louisiana honors “The Tigers.”

Nick LaRocca was discovered in December 1915 in New Orleans and contracted for Chicago. From Chicago the band headed to New York and began recording records in 1917.

The Tigers earned their name when they ran out of bullets defending a supply bridge. The commanding officer advised them to hold their ground and throw the rocks at Union soldiers. The Tigers accuracy killed several Union soldiers and led to them retreating. This delay allowed for the Tigers ammunition to be supplied and victory achieved.

The uniform of the Louisiana Tigers was inspired from the uniform of the Italians and Sicilians during the Italian War of Unification of 1860-1861.

John Viola explains to AWE News the history of Sicilian POWs in the Civil War. Click on link below.

The Naples Civitella del Tronto Museum in Abruzzo Italy has an exhibit in honor of those 1,000 plus POWs that shipped to New Orleans in 1861.

The Naples Civitella del Tronto Museum in Abruzzo Italy has an exhibit in honor of those 1,000 plus POWs that shipped to New Orleans in 1861.

The above is from a published letter to the editor of The Advocate.

To read the full letter click this Link.

The Fighting Tigers under Robert E. Lee became the LSU Tigers.

Alligator Marsala the Cajun-Italian Fusion

Alligator Marsala

On May 11, 1860 General Giuseppe Garibaldi landed in Sicily with Major Wheat and 1,000 men. Their mission was to unify Italy as France had just taken Nice from the Kingdom of Savoy and Austria had its sights set on taking Venice. John Viola explains in this video.

After crossing Sicily and heading onto the boot of Italy, Garibaldi finished his campaign in Abruzzo on March 17, 1861. At this point in time lower Italy and Sicily were part of The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Major Wheat from New Orleans saw the Civil War coming and suggested he be allowed to take 2,000 of the 12,000 Sicilian prisoners of war to New Orleans. Six ships left for New Orleans bring approximately 1,600 war hardened soldiers.

In 2019 Charles Marsala approached Chef Andrea Apuzzo to substitute Alligator for Veal Marsala. The result was a delicious new Cajun-Italian dish served for the first time the night before Mayor LaToya Cantrell apologized for the 1891 lynching of eleven Italians.

Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni declared May 11th to be Alligator Marsala Day in Jefferson Parish.

Major Wheat returned to New Orleans to found the Fighting Tigers Battalion, which is honored today by LSU’s mascot.

Homemade Alligator Marsala with salmon bowtie pasta
Frank & Paulette Stewart, Chef Andrea Apuzzo, and Charles Marsala on the night Alligator Marsala was first served.
Alligator Marsala at Andrea’s
Jefferson Parish President Michael Yenni declared May 11th as Alligator Marsala Day
Charles Marsala, Franco Alessandrini, Michael Santo, and Sal Perricone in front of the banner for St. Expedite.