Mayor Bill de Blasio had a busy, culturally enriching Thursday, honoring the historical contributions of both Greece and Italy all in one afternoon.
First, the mayor met with Greek Independence Day Parade Chairman and organizer John Catsimatidis, religious leaders, and others to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Greece’s Independence Day. This widely celebrated holiday usually boasts a parade filled with music, floats, and the Greek flag flown high; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt on these and similar festivities.
In lieu of the parade, de Blasio joined celebrants outside of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America on 10 East 79th St. to salute Greek New Yorkers.
“We celebrate 200 years of independence. But let’s celebrate thousands of years of Greek contributions to the world. A way of life, a way of thinking that we embrace, and we love today wouldn’t have been possible without Greece,” de Blasio said.
The Greek Revolution took place in 1821, which both Catsimatidis and de Blasio said was inspired by the American Revolution of 1776. While Greece was inspired by America’s push for freedom and independence, it is said that America’s founding fathers drew inspiration from the Greeks in creating our democratic republic.
“So today, 200 years later, it’s a very different world. But we need to hold those patriots in our hearts,” de Blasio said, comparing the fight and struggle the Greeks underwent during their revolution to New York’s battle with the coronavirus, adding, “We’ve faced something we never could have possibly imagine and at times it looked like the coronavirus was that great empire bearing down us. But every one of you were freedom fighters. New Yorkers fought back, and so today we celebrate the rebirth of New York City and what a good day to celebrate it 200 years of consistent devotion to freedom and democracy by the Greek people and our closeness.”
The event culminated with the showcase of traditional Greek dances and music. De Blasio also promised next year will feature a parade.
While de Blasio honored Greece for its imprint on American culture, he also paid tribute Thursday afternoon to the 700th anniversary of the death of Italian poet Dante Alighieri. The mayor joined members of the Italian Heritage and Culture Committee of New York (IHCC) to remember the literary contributions of Alighieri at Dante Park on Columbus Avenue and 63rd Street.
Standing directly in the shadow of Alighieri’s statue, de Blasio emphasized the figure’s contribution towards the soul and passion of Italian language. Alighieri is famously known for his epic poem, Inferno, which follows his journey through the many levels of hell.
“He means the beauty of our language. Without him there would not be that single unified language,” de Blasio said.
The ceremony concluded with segments of Alighieri’s work read aloud by students from La Scuola d’ Italia.