The Shameful Story: a cinematic investigation into the channels of early twentieth century emigration to the Americas, almost completely from southern Italy, mostly from Sicily. The main characters are the river of people originating from all the Sicilian provinces: farmers, day laborers, mechanics, tradesmen, students, intellectuals, men. women, children, who at the end of the nineteenth century crowded the docks of the ports of Palermo and Castellammare del Golfo, to embark for New York, Buenos Aires, or Sao Paulo.
Among them were peasants and workers who years before had taken part in the Workers' Fasci, a movement against the exploitation of workers by the mafia of the managed estates that had arisen in Sicily in 1891, and in 1894 had been violently suppressed by both royal troops and mafia landlords.
The names are found in the lists of the Kingdom of Italy's Palermo Prefecture, in the chronicles of military trials, in the rolls of protesters imprisoned and condemned to hard labor. Granted a reprieve by the amnesty of 1898, a great many of these people took the road to the sea, primarily directed to North America, towards the United States, a utopian land of freedom and well-being.
The research for this project has brought to light their stories, those of Sicilian peasants, often illiterate, still very poor, who nevertheless participated in the American labor movement for the cause of social and civil rights as well as the struggle against racism—they themselves experiencing every sort of verbal and physical violence, including lynching.
There are stories that tell about participation in the textile strikes in Lawrence, Massachusetts and miners' strikes in Pennsyvania, about solidarity clubs and about hand-embroidered banners sent to friends at home, commemorating a struggle shared across the ocean on both shores, in Sicily and America.
They called it the "lemon road"...
the water route for exporting fruits and lemons;
it became the road of the great exodus
from Palermo to New York.
A "necessary consequence"
In May of 2016, 1893. L'inchiesta (1893. The Investigation), a documentary broadcast on RAI Storia, a division of RAI Cultura TV recounts a story never before told in film, that of the Workers' Fasci Movement that occurred in Sicily at the end of the 1800's.
Signing off on the synopsis and direction is the Sicilian journalist and documentarist Nella Condorelli who focuses the narration on the astounding investigation of the Workers' Fasci carried out in Sicily in the autumn of 1893 by the Venetian journalist, Adolfo Rossi. His is the only existing direct testimony of the Fasci movement and its motivations, offering us an incredibly pertinent lesson in investigative journalism that, at the time, gave rise to the first Italian and European debate, involving dailies such as the Corriere della Sera and Le Petit Journal, on the topics of freedom of information and of the press.
The director explains: With 1893. L'inchiesta, I wanted to break the silence that for 120 years obscures a completely Sicilian episode of social struggle. Researching the history of Sicily, my homeland, I've had the opportunity to overturn many accepted clichés, first and foremost the ones that show Sicilian men and women always with their heads bowed.
I consider The Shameful Story a "necessary consequence" of 1893.L'inchiesta because, following the thread of that story, another thread becomes apparent, revealing another story of human participation and social commitment that has been decidedly suppressed. All the more tragic in that during all of the twentieth century to the present the story of Sicily has been based exclusively on the image of a land that has exported only Mafia.
Finally, what will come out of "The Shameful Story" is a compelling episode of Italian history that begins in the South.
The Workers' Fasci arose in Sicily in 1891 and in only three years came to count three hundred thousand - peasants, day laborers, sulfur miners, tradesmen, students, men and women, members at 165 centers positioned over the entire Island. In the summer of 1893, they launched the largest organized strike ever seen in Italy. Suppressed in blood by both royal and mafia landord troops, between mid-December in 1893 and the first days of January, 1894, they were to count more than a hundred adults and children dead, and hundreds more wounded. To order the suppression, a state of siege of the Island, as well as the subsequent military trials, was the then Prime Minister, Francesco Crispi, supported by northern capitalists and by the powerful estate landlords. The latter included Sicilian, English, and French aristocrats sharing in the proceeds of the fertile Sicilian grain fields and the richness of its subsoil in sulfur, the "petroleum" of the time.
Neglected by the Kingdom of Italy, regardless of promises of change and social justice made to the peasants by Garibaldi, the "estate system" limited the social and economic development of Sicily, and supported the birth and growth of the twentieth century Mafia with its national as well as international powers and connections.
Erased by Fascism which had appropriated its name, and forgotten in the history books, the Sicilian Workers' Fasci are considred by international historians the most important social movement of Europe in the nineteenth century after the Paris Comune. For Leonardo Sciascia, they also represent the first popular anti-Mafia revolt of modern and contemporary Italy.
A fundamental question: Why have we forgotten?
With The Shameful Story Nella Condorelli retraces the progress of the Sicilian Fasci movement, "inconvenient at the time for the Crispi government, obliterated by Fascism, inconvenient also for Republican Italy and, judging from the persistent censorship of those events in history books, still inconvenient today ".
Starting with a search for the men and women of the Workers' Fasci who decided to emigrate across the ocean in the aftermath of their movement's dissolution and their members' military trials, the director finds herself in the midst of the first great wave of Italian migration.
Thanks to documents preserved mainly in the State Archives of Palermo, she has been able to recover names and important stories. On one shore and the other. their stories are unpublished and unknown by the grandchildren and great grandchldren of those very emigrants. Among them are also the famous faces of those who were able to "make it", exempting themselves from a destiny of poverty and marginalization.
The Shameful Story continues a narrative that spans the twentieth century: the conflagration of World War I, the Second World War, emigrations, returns, repeat departures, the struggle for work, the Mafia, the homeland seen as destiny.
The fundamental question becomes: Why have we forgotten? And, considering the migrations of our own time, the archetypal context expands: the long voyage of Sicilian peasants toward a better future is the perfect metaphor for all of today's voyages of hope.
Sicily, the land as destiny. The Mediterranean, Our Sea, "Mare Nostrum", or Sea of Death? "Mare Mortum"?
" In moving between old and new slaveries," the director concludes, "the documentary universalizes its message and requests that our awarenesss, lost in this era of global inequalities, again reflect on the search and the sharing of truth...on stories that tell the past so as to help us understand the present and to plan the future. Without borders.... Because history belongs not to one people alone but to our universal heritage."
History and information
The American chronicles of Adolfo Rossi
As did 1893. L'Inchiesta, The Shameful Story, rediscovers and highlights the chronicles of Adolfo Rossi, supported now by a magnificent photographic and video collection. This time there are two pamphlets: "An Italian in America" and "In Dollar Country", both containing articles written in the first person by the journalist—an emigrant himself from the Polesine region of Italy to the United States. The pamphlets vividly reflect the impressions of immigrants as they confront the "new world" with all its contradictions.
Here they find the deafening urban railroads that run on elevated tracks, the Barnum circus and the opium market, the billionaires of Fifth Avenue, the tenements and "house bars" of the Five Points neighborhood, their own miserable housing, the clamorous journey with fellow immigrants from New York to Colorado—across seven states—to take up jobs in the mines......
< Palerme, Sicily 1900
New York, Tenement District Palerme early 1900s Stock Alamy Photos
BRIEF GUIDE TO THE STORIES, LOST AND RECOVERED
New York, 1905. In the rubble of a Lower East Side tenement destroyed by fire, one of the many that regularly devastate New York in the early twentieth century, the police find two burnt letters. The postage shows they come from Lercara Friddi, a town in Sicily. The letters help identify the charred remains of the woman, Santa Piazza, and her brother Nicholas. A document in the Office of the Palermo Prefecture, contained in the Gancia archives, informs us that ten years earlier, Santa had been at the head of the uprisings in Lercara, against the unfair taxes and the corrupt town administration serving the barons and their estate managers; she had escaped the "Christmas of Blood" massacre, and then she was not to be found...
Louisiana 1910. Here is Mary, one of the leaders of the Women's Fascio of Piana degli Albanesi, at the head of the 1893 strikes against the mafia estate managers. In 1910 we find her as a day laborer in Louisiana, her back bent in the cotton fields next to poor blacks, overseen by men on horseback armed with their Winchesters. Labeled "non-white" in the records of Ellis Island, Mary will risk even lynching, but she will be in the front lines of the plantation strikes against hunger-level wages.
Santo Stefano di Quisquina 1911. May 25th, the sharp crack of two shots breaks the morning silence. Killed by Mafia assassins, Lorenzo Panepinto, elementary school teacher, artist, and founder of the Workers" Fasci of Santo Stefano, one of the largest in the province of Agrigento, emigrated to America in 1907 and then returned to his home town a year later to organize the peasant protests aimed at the agricultural cooperatives and at the rural treasury. In Sicily, as in Lombardy and in Emilia, strikes for land were renewed; it is an era of collective leasing, but events in Sicily have a particular significance: the aim is to eliminate the role of the estate manager (gabellotto), the mafia intermediary between the owners and the workers. Lorenzo will be shot on his doorstep, two bullets to the chest.
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