Celebrating Grand Marshall Mario Cilento at the 39th Annual Columbus Day Parade


Under a beautiful and cloudless blue sky, the 39th Bronx Italian Heritage Parade marched down Morris Park Avenue to Williamsbridge Road. The day was marked with mild temperatures that are usually typical of summer. The parade, as always, was hosted by the Morris Park Community Association and the Bronx Columbus Day Committee. Tony Signorile orchestrated the entire parade, kept it moving, and made sure all participants and spectators were having a great time.

Joining the hundreds of people who came to watch as the many organizations marched by were, NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., NYS Senator Jeff Klein, NYS Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Councilmembers Ritchie Torres and Jimmy Vacca.

As a second generation Italian-American, Comptroller DiNapoli said, “Columbus Day is an opportunity to celebrate Italian culture and heritage and to recognize the achievements of the Italian-American community. Morris Park is known across our state for hosting a great Columbus Day parade.” He continued with, “This year’s grand marshall is a true son of Morris Park. Mario Cilento is a great, respected labor leader, and a proud Italian-American who is well deserving of this honor.”

Grand Marshall Mario Cilento with his wife Andrea and three daughters.

Grand Marshall Mario Cilento with his wife Andrea and three daughters.

Grand Marshall for this year’s parade was Mario Cilento and is now President of the NYS AFL/CIO. Mario was brought up in Morris Park along with his dad, who was a union activist, and his mother. They are an example of what made Morris Park a great community. At the parade, Mario was joined at by his wife, children, and other relatives.

On a personal level, Mario being grand marshall was a very proud moment as he was my student back in 1977 in P.S. 108. Being his teacher, I knew his mother as well since she accompanied us on many class trips. Even then he showed leadership, a concern for all, and a desire to do good.

Mario Cilento as a student at PS 108, Morris Park in 1977

Mario Cilento as a student at PS 108, Morris Park in 1977

Italian-American means much more than pizza and pasta. Being Italian-American means overcoming the prejudice and discrimination that most immigrants have faced (as well as those that continue to face these issues) when they came to our shores in the early part of the last century. They confronted a society which did not welcome immigrants from Eastern Europe. They were discouraged from speaking their language, from connecting with their culture, and were subject to acts of violence.

Many Italians had to Anglicize their names in order to be able to get a decent job, be an author, or even to live where they wanted. Some of you may recall a very personal story about the son of close friends of my parents.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, my parents were very close friends with Marie and Charlie Lombino. They lived on Croes Avenue and had a son named Sal Lombino. Sal was an acclaimed author in the early 1950s when he wrote science fiction books. One, and possibly his first book was, Find the Feathered Serpent that was published in 1952 followed by, Danger: Dinosaurs and then Rocket to Luna.  As a ten year old I loved them, and I still have these books autographed by him.

In 1954 he wrote, The Blackboard Jungle which described his experience as a teacher in New York City. That earned him literary acclaim and he then went on to write several police mystery novels under the title, The 87th Precinct novels. He also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Many of you are probably asking, “Who was this author Sal Lombino? I’ve never heard of him.” or “I seem to recall those books but not a Sal Lombino as the author.”

In fact, for the first science fiction novels he went under the name Richard Marsten which incorporated the names of his sons Ted, Mark, and Richard. For Blackboard Jungle he used the pseudonym Evan Hunter and for the police mystery novels he went under Ed McBain.

Why, you may ask?

I was able to make contact with him around 2000. He did recall the connection and I asked about the reason for his name change. He explained that back then, Italian immigrants were expected to either dig ditches or to be mobsters. Prior to changing his name he was turned down by some publishing houses. Sal had said at one point, “If you’re an Italian-American, you’re not supposed to be a literate person”. Sal passed away in 2005.

We all join in honoring Sal Lombino and all of the Italians and Italian-Americans in our lives.

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