By Eric Fortier
La Cosa Nostra still exists in Italy and the United States, yet they are more secretive than the identity that they had 40 years ago, according to a Mafia expert who spoke at Mercy last month.
The Anti-Mafia Movement and Italian Culture Today were the main themes for the Mercy College Fall Italian Night. The event held on Oct. 29 was an opportunity for students to see a film and discuss the content with the filmmaker.
Prof. Alan Hartman, Director of Modern Foreign Languages at Mercy College, introduced the evening as, “Giving the Italian community a chance to come together and understand what it means to be an Italian-American in America.”
The main speaker for the night was Professor Anthony Fragola, a film studies professor at The University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Fragola, who is a Sicilian-American, makes primarily documentary films, and has focused his talents on the subject of the Anti- Mafioso Movement in Sicily and Italy.
La Cosa Nostra, meaning “Our Thing,” is what the Italians call the Mafioso.
The film presented, Un Bellissimo Ricordo (A Beautiful Memory: A Mother and Her Sons Against the Mafia), tells the story of the assassination of Anti-Mafioso activist Giuseppe “Peppino” Impastato. Using interviews with Peppino’s mother Felicia Impastato, retracing Peppino’s steps that day and using clips from I Cento Passi, it is a feature film by Italian director Marco Tullio Giordano based on Peppino Impastato’s life.
Peppino’s father was Mafioso and was not aware of his son’s activism giving speeches that were anti-Mafioso. Mr. Impastato was given an ultimatum by the Mafioso, but it was too late, and both father and son were assassinated.
At one point in the film, Fragola asked Felicia about the differences about the Mafia then and the Mafia now. Her answer in spoken in Italian was, “Back then everyone knew who the Mafioso men were. Today you don’t know who they are.”
“The film is about Felicia’s ability to overcome tragedy,” said Fragola. “She is a historic figure to the Anti-Mafioso Movement.”
After the film Fragola answered many questions related to the film and his other work.
Many do not know that the Mafia still exists, yet Fragola told the group the Mafia is everywhere.
“They don’t care; if they want to kill someone and 100 people die, they don’t care,” Fragola continued.
“They are going to keep on doing what they want, they have so much money and they can infiltrate and buy anyone.”
He went on to say that the Mafioso could not exist without political collusion.
“They are very infiltrated into Italian and Sicilian government,” he said.
One person at the event asked Fragola if he felt threatened because he makes these types of films that require he go to Sicily frequently.
“In the U.S., no…” said Fragola. “I really don’t feel threatened in Italy as well but, I think you can be with the right person at the wrong time.”
Fragola told thne audience a story about a time when he was in Sicily and a gun came out, yet he remained calm because of who he was with.
Fragola believes that education is the key to the Anti-Mafioso movement.
“The Mafioso recruits from the poor areas of society,” he said.
Another speaker was Mercy College Professor Angelo Zeola, who represented a new wave of Italian-Americans. He is a poet studying Italian for over 15 years. He shared one of his poems in Italian and English titled “Secondi Gliano,” reflecting life in the Italian community.
Mercy College student Jena D’Andrea, who is half Italian, said, “This event was very informative. I did not know the Mafia still existed.”
“It was culture shock what I learned tonight about the Mafia. I thought the Mafia was fictional from the movies, not actually real,” said Rebecca Bullard, another Mercy College student who is 25 percent Italian.
Some Americans associate the stereotype of Italian-Americans as the Mafia, a perception exploited by Hollywood with films like The Godfather and Goodfellas as well as television series like The Sopranos.
“That is part of the problem,” stated Hartman. “There’s the frustration of being characterized in a situation that does not fit.”