Passaic's Italian Heritage Ceremony
During the summer of 2019 I was commissioned by the Passaic Board of Education to paint a historical mural at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School #6 on the exterior wall of the gymnasium. On October 14th, 2019 the mural was honored with a ceremony commemorating the History of Passaic mural
It was an auspicious event with attendees such as, the Mayor, the Superintendent of Schools and staff, the President of the Passaic Board of Education, administrators from district schools, local dignitaries including the city's historian, the Passaic High School marching band, the School 6 choir and student speakers along with the entire 2019 8th grade graduating class, and Passaic residents were all in attendance.
On that day Mayor Hector Lora spoke at the podium and told the audience why he was there, which was not only to appreciate the beauty of the mural but he also advocated the omni-importance for public art and how it enriches communities with positive outcomes.
This year, the School 6 mural led to me teaming up with Passaic again but this time it was the mayor who I would be working with. This second Passaic mural commenced on July 16th and was completed on September 18th, 2020. The mural depicts a city's past and future with all the cultures that have been an integral part of the city's evolution from the time of the Lenape natives who gave the city its name( pahsayek ) which means "place where land splits." The origins of the city's name derives from the life giving force of the river that flows through there.
The river cuts through the mural's composition as it does through the natural terrain. On the banks of the river within the foreground, there are 13 people representing the new and old immigrants who came to America and settled in Passaic which used to be known as "little New York." After the original Lenni Lenape tribe settled near the Passaic river with their long homes made from the forest trees. We see a timeline of cultures throughout Passaic's history from past to present, from the Dutch 17th Century Dutch explorer, to the European immigrants arriving from the later 19th and into the early 20th centuries, to the new immigrants from Latin America, the Mid-East, India and the future will surely bring in more of the old and the new because this small city, once a powerhouse of industry is in a renaissance period as is most urban areas that are prime for redevelopment. The two buildings dominate the mural's skyline this rebirth from old to new. I can appreciate the white warehouse and the brown one being kept alive to be reused and not razed to the ground amongst rocks and rubble. In between those two edifices is the old 'red brick factory' (Paterson Parchment Paper Co.) with its iconic step pyramid pediment with thatched tiled roof. That is a classical building from the 1920's that is still in use today. Behind that to represent Passaic's industrial might is a black 'old school' water tower symbolic of Passaic's gotham. The right side of the mural is the future as seen in the Grafstraction and woven into the design is an amphitheatre that is currently being built inside a new public park alongside the Passaic River. There is an epitaph written next to the future structure that reads;
"The story of Immigrants is all of our stories, we come from somewhere to unite and make our community better together." ~~Hector Mayor C. Lora
On Saturday October 3rd, I was one honored by Mayor Lora for my mural contributions to the city as an Italian-American (Italo-Americano), at the 2nd Annual Italian Heritage Flag Raising ceremony in front of city hall. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, UNICO (National Italian Heritage Organization) was represented in the event. UNICO stands for Neighborliness, Integrity, Charity, Opportunity. In the Italian language, o in lingua italiana, unico means unique or one of a kind. Congressman Bill Pascral who is not only a son of Italian immigrants but also a strong advocate for the visual arts spoke at the ceremony and told a story of how early Italian immigrants were not accepted by Americans because they were different in appearance and brought with them a foreign language, and culture not similar to American. However, that is what America is about, the mixing and blending of cultures hence the term this country being described as a "melting-pot." My ancestors like yours as expressed in Mayor Lora's quote came from another land to this one to make a better life for themselves and their families and that has not changed today with today's immigrants. I believe America is the land of opportunity where you can go from rags to riches if you have the strength and courage to follow your dreams no matter how difficult they might be to ascertain.
It was a great honor to be given a certificate of achievement that recognizes the ability of a contemporary muralist as a highly-esteemed skill worthy of a city's appreciation. I joined the ranks of Passaic's proud Italian heritage of all types of occupations and professions from day laborers and builders to the sciences, the arts, literature, politics and education, Italians have played a major role in the development of Passaic and throughout the history of The United States.
I can tell you that sitting at my Nanny's Kitchen table when I was a young child doodling and drawing with a yellow school pencil or a Bic pen inside a small, spiral notepad would lead to something as monumental as receiving recognition for creating historical Passaic murals as an international artist.
I want to thank Mayor Lora for being a visionary, his staff, the Department of Water Works, Passaic Historian Mark Auerbach and also to all those who contributed and attended the 2nd Annual Italian Heritage event that was an awesome moment in my life as a professional artist and as a proud Italian-American, saluta!