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Columbian Lawyers Association looks back at history of discrimination against Italian Americans

October 3, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Columbian Lawyers Association and its president Joseph Rosato (right) welcomed attorneys Carmelo Grimaldi (left) and Michael A. Scotto (center) for a continuing legal education seminar called, “Italians in America, Victims of Discrimination and Advocates for Inclusion and Diversity,” during their monthly meeting. Eagle photos by Mario Belluomo
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The Columbian Lawyer Association of Brooklyn took a look back at the history of discrimination against Italian-Americans as part of its continuing legal education seminar during its monthly meeting at the Rex Manor in Dyker Heights on Tuesday.

Attorneys Carmelo Grimaldi and Michael A. Scotto led the lecture titled, “Italians in America, Victims of Discrimination and Advocates for Inclusion and Diversity.” The lecture fulfilled the new diversity, inclusion and bias requirement for CLEs.

“Mel and Mike Scotto made a similar presentation for the Nassau Columbian Lawyers group, so we asked them to come to Brooklyn to speak on the subject,” said Joseph Rosato, president of the Columbian Lawyers of Brooklyn.

“Carmelo is a partner at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone, LLP, a labor law and employment law practice group. He has 30 years of experience concentrating on diverse employment and labor law matters. Mike is engaged in criminal defense with a focus on white collar crime.”

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Before the CLE, officially started, Justice Wayne Saitta gave a bit of background on the internment of Italian nationals during World War II.

“It didn’t matter how long you have been in the country, whether you were a permanent resident or an alien, you were considered an ‘enemy alien’” Justice Saitta said. “All Italian immigrants who hadn’t naturalized had to register, they were fingerprinted, they had to carry around their registrations with them.

“They were barred from going more than five miles from their homes without permission,” Saitta continued. “They were also barred from having flashlights, cameras or shortwave radios.

The federal government seriously considered interning Italian-Americans like they did the Japanese, but ultimately [President Franklin Roosevelt] decided against it because of the huge number of Italian Americans and the disruption it would cause to the war effort.”

Grimaldi, a past president of the Confederation of Columbian Lawyers, talked a bit about attorneys and law firms having proper harassment and discrimination policies in place. He also discussed recent changes the NYS Division of Human Rights issued this month.

Afterward he transitioned the lecture towards recent Italian-American discrimination and discussed the 1990s lawsuit against the City University of New York where Justice Constance Baker Motley ruled that CUNY had discriminated against Italian-Americans in its hiring practice. At the time, he said, nearly 25 percent of the student body was made up of Italian-Americans, but just 4.5 percent of the faculty had the same origin.

Concetta Mennella, a past president of the Columbian Lawyers of Brooklyn, the Confederation of Columbian Lawyers and an adjunct professor herself, said that the problem is ongoing.

“The problem is that CUNY is still not adhering to the decision that was rendered by the court,” Mennella said. “When the Calandra Institute asked for a list of Italian-American faculty members, it stalled. There is still discrimination going on against Italian-Americans at CUNY.”

When the Brooklyn Eagle followed up and asked CUNY why it did not provide the list, or what steps it was taking to ensure that it was adhering to the court’s decision, it failed to respond by publication of this article.

At the end of the CLE, the lecture became more of a discussion when Columbus Day was brought up, including attempts by NYC to remove statutes of Christopher Columbus from around New York City.

“There are confederate statues that were erected that were clearly a double message, but Columbus’ statutes were all erected to honor us as a group,” Grimaldi said. “The Columbus statue in Columbus Circle was erected after the worst mass lynching in America that occurred in New Orleans where hundreds of Italian-Americans were killed.”

“The 1891 lynching was not an isolated incident,” Scotto added. “In 1899, in Tallulah, Louisiana, three Italian-American shopkeepers were lynched because they had treated blacks in their shops the same as whites.”

Others were bothered that instead of merely renaming Columbus Day to Italian-American Day, or any other variation, in many areas people are attempting to replace the day entirely and instead celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, especially in parts of the country with low Italian-American populations.

“I’m not saying people from those backgrounds shouldn’t have a day, but when they put that day on Oct. 8 they’re suggesting people from our background shouldn’t have a day,” Steven Bamundo said.

As they do every year, members of the Columbian Lawyers of Brooklyn will be marching in the Manhattan Columbus Day Parade. Members of the association are meeting on 5th Avenue between 44th and 45th streets at approximately 11 p.m.

Bart M. Verdirame (left) and Mario Romano.


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