SALEM — The Italian flag will once again fly downtown in October, though when it will be raised has yet to be determined.
The City Council voted 8-3 last week to raise the Italian flag in the city during Italian-American Heritage Month. The national recognition of Italian-American heritage takes place in October. Some associate it with Christopher Columbus because of Columbus's Italian heritage and because Columbus Day is in October.
The flag is expected to go up this year without interfering with flags raised for National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Riley Plaza, bordered by Margin and Washington streets in front of the U.S. Postal Service building, is the chosen spot in part for the Italian-American neighborhood that has historically existed near the highly visible plaza.
Last year, the idea was presented by Ward 4 City Councilor Tim Flynn, but the discussion was overshadowed by debate over honoring indigenous cultures instead of Columbus. That debate also became a national trend, as several communities have renamed Columbus Day in support of the indigenous cultures many say Columbus' discovery of North America destroyed.
Italian flags were raised for about a week last year to avoid connections to Columbus Day, but the flag-raising also caused the removal of Hispanic flags two weeks early.
Ultimately, Flynn's order for 2020 was amended to require that Flynn work with city Mayor Kim Driscoll on raising the flag so that it doesn't cause Hispanic flags to come down.
"I want to make sure both can fly and both be honored," Flynn said this week. "It will be raised in October — I'm hoping the last two weeks, but we'll see how it works with the mayor's office."
The flags of several Hispanic nations will be raised at Riley Plaza on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., according to the mayor's office. Driscoll on Monday declined to comment on the Italian flag order, saying no one has brought it up with her yet.
Flynn said on Monday morning that he planned to email the mayor's office later that day to start setting up how and when the Italian flag will be raised.
"I don't want to step on any toes," Flynn said. "I want them to stay just how it is and don't want anyone to feel one flag is being taken down for another."
As councilors discussed Flynn's order last Thursday, some noted that the order had no connection or reference to the famous Italian explorer and navigator.
"There will be a time to disrespect Christopher Columbus later," said City Councilor-at-large Arthur Sargent. "But Christopher Columbus' name isn't in this order."
Still, the debate focused heavily on Columbus.
"The history of October and Italian heritage has an association with Columbus," said Ward 2 City Councilor Christine Madore last week. "If we choose to raise an Italian flag in October, that'd still signal that we're ignoring the pain of indigenous people who've said repeatedly that October is a reminder of Columbus Day."
Madore, along with Councilors Meg Riccardi and Josh Turiel, opposed the flag-raising.
Domingo Dominguez, an at-large councilor and Dominican Republic native, said the body needs "to be open when it comes to celebrations." He further condemned changing "any date that's supposed to be for the celebration of any community."
"Let's have the mayor's office do the schedule to see how it's going to fit. Councilor Flynn's willing to work on the demonstration," Dominguez said. "It's about time we put our differences aside."
Ward 7 City Councilor Steve Dibble, meanwhile, said flying the Italian flag "in front of the post office would mean so much to a huge number of Italian-heritage residents in the city of Salem."
Councilor-at-large Conrad Prosniewski, speaking with a more unifying tone, said he couldn't "believe we're spending so much time on this one issue."
"The Italian community played a huge part in the shaping of this city," Prosniewski said. "I understand the political atmosphere right now many want people to kind of join that together, but that isn't what this city is. This city grew up on its ethnic backgrounds."