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150th Italian Heritage Parade draws highest attendance in ‘recent memory’

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The 150th Italian Heritage Parade was held on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018 (Courtesy Italian Heritage Parade)

If you host a parade that stretches back 150 years, recollections tend to be a bit murky.

Yet organizers of the 150-year-old Italian Heritage Parade can say one thing for certain: This past weekend’s Italian-celebrant parade on Sunday netted the largest attendance in “recent memory.”

That’s according to Joe Ciarallo, spokesperson for the parade.

The more than 100 groups participating in the parade drew more than 50,000 attendees, according to Ciarallo, busting numbers going back at least a decade.

The news comes on Monday, the very first “Italian American Heritage Day” in San Francisco.

The Board of Supervisors approved the day in April after voting in January to rename the former Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day. The earlier decision, proposed by Supervisor Malia Cohen, drew protests from Italian Americans.

Italian American community groups began collecting signatures to overturn the legislation but eventually Supervisor Catherine Stefani introduced a measure “to declare the second Monday in October each year to be Italian American Heritage Day, in addition to Indigenous Peoples Day.”

Ciarallo said the larger-than-usual attendance at Sunday’s Italian Heritage Parade was likely prompted by the 150th anniversary, which drew about 10,000 more attendees than the last ten years, though he cautioned he didn’t have attendance numbers in the farthest reaches of the parade’s history.

The tradition dates back to 1868, so he could not definitively say it was the highest attendance in the parade’s record.

“Not the biggest ever — this parade goes way back,” Ciarallo said.

The parade, which wound its way through Fisherman’s Wharf to North Beach — The City’s “Little Italy” — featured Italian music as well as floats displaying Italian culture, heralded by parade grand garshals Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace, former San Francisco 49er’s executive Carmen Policy and Police Commission Vice President Thomas “Tippy” Mazzucco.

Lorenzo Ortona, Italian consul general for Northern California, said that Italy and San Francisco have a uniquely intimate relationship.

“Every part of The City speaks Italian,” Ortona said, from the buildings to its rich history.

Even City Hall was lit up red white and green on Sunday to celebrate Italian heritage.

Otrona noted the Golden Gate Bridge, the “most symbolic part of The City,” was built under the political will of an Italian-San Franciscan mayor, Angelo Joseph Rossi, and was financed by the Bank of Italy, which is now the Bank of America.

Part of City Hall is made from Italian marble, and Italians arriving in the Gold Rush contributed to many facets of San Franciscan history, Ortona said.

“We feel at home as Italians in San Francisco,” he said.

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