What Makes a Sicilian

 “A must for lovers of Sicily who are offended by the stereotyped image of Sicilians manufactured by the mass media.”–Antonio Pagano, Sicilia Parra

Read a few paragraphs of  “What makes a Sicilian” by Prof. Gaetano Cipolla:

    It is ironic that the majority of Americans recognize the name of Sicily, in spite of the fact that it is a small island, barely one fourth the size of Cuba, whereas they probably would have difficulty locating even larger countries on a globe. So perhaps the first thing we can say about Sicily is that it occupies a place of renown in modem American and European consciousness that is not commensurate with its present economic or political importance. This apparent disproportion, however, rather than being an unusual feature, is the norm for the island. Both for what it has contributed to the world and in people’s perceptions of it, there seems to be an element of hyperbole and exaggeration that colors everything Sicilian. Sicily, as Ben Morreale said in a recent article, has been a talisman for the powerful: the domination of the Mediterranean has always been tied to the possession of the island. Inversely, the loss of Sicily has marked the decline of empires.
When Sicily was lost to the invading Vandal hordes, Rome declined; the Byzantines lost their dominance in Italy when Sicily fell to the Arabs; the Bourbons lost the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies when they lost Sicily to Garibaldi. Sicily has been the gateway to Italy and Europe. No wonder that the Allies chose it to begin their assault on Europe in 1943. Its geographical position has guaranteed for it a place of prominence far beyond what one would expect from its size, something it shares with Italy. People have come to Sicily to fight their wars on its soil, to plunder its wealth, to leap from it into Europe. From the beginning of recorded history, it has been the point of contact between the various civilizations that have left their mark on the lands of the Mediterranean sea, the meeting point between East and West, between Africa and Europe.

    The beauties of the island attracted the seafaring Phoenicians who founded Palermo; the mysterious and elusive Elymians established a cult of Venus, the goddess of love, high on Mount Erice; the Carthaginians controlled much of the western half of the island; the Greeks considered the island a promised land and once they established themselves as Sicilians they outdid their brothers in the grandeur of their achievements; Rome grew into the most powerful empire in the world after its conquest of Sicily; the Arabs transformed it into the Garden of Allah; the Norman warriors made of it the most advanced state in Europe; and Frederick II, the great emperor who was born eight centuries ago last year, made it the most important center of learning in Europe. But Sicily and Sicilians do not enjoy a good reputation. In the United States, or in any other part of the world for that matter, when people hear the name of Sicily, images of mayhem and violence are inevitably displayed before their mind’s eye and knife-wielding villains with dark hair stand ready to do mischief against law and order. The media has portrayed Sicilians so exclusively as belonging to the Mafia that the two nouns go together linguistically like “bread and butter”.
The mafioso’s modus operandi has been extended to all Sicilians and they are seen as greedy and ruthless individuals. Many actually believe that Sicilians carry the seeds of criminality and lawlessness in their blood. The gulf between real Sicilians and the image concocted by the media is very wide indeed and growing wider, judging by pictures like True Romance by Quentin Tarantino which characterizes Sicilians as degenerate liars and goes so far as to question even their belonging to the Caucasian race. [ …. ]

Professore Gaetano Cipolla

This booklet, 32 pages, has been published by Prof. G. Cipolla through “ARBA SICULA” and you can buy it in  Amazon

Professor Gaetano Cipolla teaches at St. John’s University. He is the leading authority on Sicilian language and culture. He is president and editor of Arba Sicula, the only literary Sicilian-English journal in the world.


Arba Sicula
Arba Siculahttp://www.arbasicula.org/
Arba Sicula is a non-profit international organization that promotes the language and culture of Sicily. The President and Editor, Gaetano Cipolla, is a Sicilian native and professor of language and literature at St. John’s University in New York.

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  1. You might want to update some of the facts above.
    DR., Professor Cipolla no longer teaches at St. John’s University, he retired in 2011. He still however remains the President and Editor of Arba Sicula. He is still conducting annual tours of Sicily for the benefit of some of the 2500 plus members of Arba Sicula lucky enough to take advantage of the Good Professor’s thoughtful and provocative knowledge of Sicily and the good Sicilians that live and have lived there.
    Viva Sicilia!

  2. My father’s parents surnames: Ricevuto, Mother and Scilipoti FATHER, were from Bafia, Castroreale,Messina. I am 75 yrs old and recently retired. I have been to Italy and found my Maternal grandparents in Lucca. Other then the births of my children and grandchildren it was the most thrilling time in my life. I was however, much closer to my Sicilian grandparents and wud lv to go to Sicily and find my history there. However, my grandparents died very young, my grandfather before I was born and my grandmother when I was 13. Everyone from that side of the family is gone and with them any connection to the relatives in Sicily. Can you advise me how I can go about finding some information on them before I take the trip to Sicily, I hv dreamed about all my life. Grazie!

  3. I look forward to hearing a positive response from you to help me make my dream come true.

  4. Rose:
    Civil birth, marriage and death records for Castroreale for the years 1820 – 1865 are on-line at the free Mormon website https://www.familysearch.org

    Later records may be on hand at the Anagrafe (Registry office) in Castroreale, or possibly in Messina.

    Make a list of your grandparents and any siblings that you know of, as well as the names of your paternal aunts and uncles, and your father. Those names should reflect the names of your paternal grandparents’ parents, and the same first names may have been passed on to your cousins in the area. Check on-line phone books for those names, to see if any are still living in Castroreale.

    When you go (do you speak Sicilian or Italian?) visit the Castroreale Municipio (town hall) and Anagrafe to see if you can find information on your relatives.

    Don’t expect to take a couple of hours some afternoon and find this information. When you visit the offices for the first time, you may find that they are closed for a civic holiday, or for construction, or for an afternoon siesta.

    Leave yourself a few days in which you will be able to re-visit the offices if necessary. The local cemetery may yield some of your family’s names if their deaths were not too long ago. Most Sicilian cemeteries did not maintain old graves after the family ceased to pay the rent, and re-buried the remains in common graves.

    See my page at http://bit.ly/AFCGen for other tips on finding information on your ancestors. Good luck!

  5. I have read your book, “The Lady of the Wheel”, and found it very enlightening. How terrible the conditions in Sicily must hv been to allow our ancestors to travel too a strange country, did not speak the language with scarcely any money. I am very proud to be Sicilian and to be a part of such a strong family. I loved my Sicilian grandmother, Rose and wud like to think that I share some of that strength. It will be a happy day for me when I can honor her and stand in her footsteps in her birth country. I will not stop looking until I find her! Thank you so much for your response.

  6. I gave your book to another friend whose grandparents are from Sicily. Now I must order another as I want to read it again. I changed my email address and wanted to let you know that I will be traveling to Sicily in Sept. 2014 and just wanted to thank you again and ask one more question. I do not want to go on a tour bus per se but I wud like to hv someone who has knowledge of Sicily to take us by car to certain places I wud like to see. I may not hv the opportunity to travel to Sicily again and I want to see the true Sicily. IF YOU have any suggestions, I wud appreciate them. GRAZIE!!

    • Rose,

      Contact the 2 girls at Sicily Memory Roamers. They are native Sicilian women who can do all you ask. They traced my grandfather to his abandonment in a ruota in Cattolica Eraclea and mi nonna di Lercara Friddi. Honest women and very easy to contact via e mail.


      • I saw a post from Darius regarding Sicily Memory Roamers. Has anyone hired them to take a private tour in Sicily?

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