Dr. Manny Alfano, Pioneer of Italian American Activism, Dies at 86

Dr. Alfano, a family man and Italian American leader, spent 30 years advocating for our culture, and his legacy will live on for decades to come. 

By Truby Chiaviello, PRIMO Magazine

One of the last efforts of Dr. Manny Alfano was, ironically, not Italian.

Back in March, Dr. Alfano sought to organize a unity rally with Jewish leaders in Randolph, New Jersey. All ethnic groups were invited for purposes of solidarity in an outdoor assembly to protest the removal of the second day of Rosh Hashanah from the school district’s calendar. As Dr. Alfano, a pioneer civil rights leader for Italian Americans, saw it: the persecution of one ethnic group was inherently connected to all others. The censorship of Rosh Hashanah was no different than the censorship of Columbus Day.

Such was the life and, now, the legacy of Dr. Manny Alfano, founder and principal of the Italian American One Voice Coalition (IAOVC), who passed away on June 19th. The loss to the Italian American community is most felt in the arena of social justice and activism. Dr. Alfano, a tireless advocate for all things Italian, rose to the ultimate occasion the last two years when cities and towns throughout America sought to eliminate Columbus Day and tear down Columbus statues and monuments. It was Dr. Alfano and his cadre of activists, in Andre Dimino, and others at IAOVC, who consistently and vigorously fought the incessant assault against Columbus and the right of Italians to celebrate this national holiday at state and local levels.

At a time when most people are long retired, Dr. Alfano was incredibly active in fighting the good fight for all Italian Americans. “Calls for action” by him, through email blasts, were delivered to organizations, individuals and the Italian American media, almost on a daily basis, especially after the death of George Floyd, when cities, towns and school districts were hellbent to destroy any remnant of Columbus in America. Dr. Alfano and his team, at IAOVC, were like David versus Goliath. Outnumbered, outgunned, outspent, they bravely showed up at dozens of municipal and school district meetings to hold placards, signs and speak out against the elimination of Columbus Day. When all hope seemed lost, Dr. Alfano, and IAOVC, posted some impressive victories:

Rockaway, NJ – Columbus Day restored
Randolph, NJ – Columbus Day, back on the school calendar
Scotch Plains, NJ – Columbus monument retained
U.S. Senate – Bill to eliminate Columbus Day withdrawn
West Orange, NJ – Municipality sued for removal of Columbus Monument
Network of lawyers, nationwide, initiated to fight the removal of Columbus statues and monuments in Philadelphia federal court
Assembling a list of legislators nationwide to lobby and retain Columbus Day

Born in 1936 to Sicilian immigrants in Newark, New Jersey, Dr. Alfano spent his entire adult life in Northeast New Jersey. A chiropractor, professional musician and civic leader in Bloomfield, he was a loyal and active member of UNICO National. He founded IAOVC in 1992 to fight anti-Italianism and defamation. His focus was mostly on negative stereotypes perpetuated in mainstream media. Italians were, and still are, depicted in cinema and television as inherently violent, ignorant and boorish. Indeed, rarely, if ever, are Italians shown in films outside the gangster genre. In an era of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” and HBO’s “The Sopranos,” Dr. Alfano was a sole voice in opposition to objectionable portrayals of Italians in mainstream media. He was ahead of his time.

Stepping into the arena of political and social dispute is what we learn from Dr. Alfano. Even when leaning on a cane, in declining health, he was there, in person, to fight on our behalf. His will be a model in the continued fight to save Columbus Day and our shared Italian heritage in America. Our condolences are extended to his family, friends and comrade-in-arms.

Visit PRIMO Magazine for the latest Italian and Italian American news and issues. 

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