Prologue: Mafia 1880
Mafiosi: the opposite of Mafia. Few know the difference. Few realize both Mafia and Mafiosi are alive and thriving in America right now today. Few realize how similar the two are in structure; but how opposite in nature. One is evil and one good.
Mafia is the criminal element known as organized crime. They rule by fear. They steal, cheat and kill honest people to gain wealth and power, though they can never seem to get enough.
Mafiosi are the exact opposite. They protect honest Americans from those who would harm them. They keep Mafia from gaining a stronghold in their territory by reigning over it themselves. Mafiosi have set up an equally powerful organization of brave and loyal patriots for the benefit of their own citizens who love and respect their protectors, as a child loves his parents.
To understand the present we must first know its history. The Mafia began in 1880s Sicily. The Unification of all of the states into one Central Italy multiplied the territory many-fold and sudden-like. Because of the rapid expansion, the new unified Italian government could not enforce the laws in all its vast regions. There were not enough trained soldiers, thus a vacuum was created in the outlying territories like Sicily and Sardinia.
Groups of lawless thieves and thugs filled the void. They organized into La Cosa Nostra: ‘our thing’ in English. They funded their new criminal enterprises with monies they extorted and bullied from everyday hardworking peasants. They beat up men, and threatened to hurt their children and women if a portion of their income was not turned over in tribute to the gangsters.
As was the Sicilian custom back in the 1880’s, the first-born Italian son was given his father’s middle name as his first name. His father’s first name became his son’s middle name. Following this custom meant each grandson would carry his grandfather’s exact name in perpetuity. Reversing the order of the names avoided confusion at family gatherings. The main idea is for the lineage to carry on forever; a way to assure immortality through your ancestors.
The son of Benedetto Carlo Peruzzi had been named Carlo Benedetto Peruzzi. This tradition carries on to this day even after the family immigrated to America.
Sicily 1882 – the fertile plains in the country outside Palermo
Twelve-year old Benny Peruzzi helped his father Carlo; tend their few acres of lemon groves every day before and after school. They had a few olive trees and a couple dozen grapevines, but those were for their own consumption. Lemons were their meal ticket.
The fertile, heavy soil, moderate climate, and an abundance of water provided the ideal climate to grow lemon trees. Since some British scientist publicized that lemon juice cured scurvy, lemons were in great demand around the world. In 1880’s Sicily, the farmers were able to produce an abundance of the cash crop in their lemon orchards, and due to their proximity and easy access to Messina Harbor or Palermo Harbor, they transported their yield to be exported to the waiting ships from around the world.
Because there was always a huge demand for fresh lemons to prevent their sailors from dying on board a long sea trip, the ships paid a sky high price for the lemons produced in the perfect climate.
The Peruzzi’s could live well on the $200 per acre their broker paid for ripe lemons. The whole family worked each day to grow, cultivate, irrigate and harvest the orchard. Each February and August they chopped, boxed and transported their lemons to market. Their pockets were full and their lives hard but simple and prosperous. Until two things happened.
The Unification of Italy as a state spread the Italian army too thin to police the out-regions like Sicily. The new army could barely control mainland Italy. That left a void or a vacuum in the law enforcement of Palermo and other Sicilian ports, such as Messina.
A new group of thieves and profiteers emerged in the early 1880’s that came to be labeled The Cosa Nostra, or The Mafia. They were strong-arm men who would intimidate peasants to take money or goods any way possible.
In Peruzzi’s case it was at the Harbor. The thugs convinced the Brokers to make them intermediaries. They demanded $100 per acre from Peruzzi or they would kill his son. That left only $50 an acre profit, barely enough to survive. Is some instances the thugs just commandeered their crops at gunpoint.
Those who were wronged realized no one was going to come to their aid. The government and its army were far away on the mainland. A few of the younger and stronger men among the growers and sharecroppers decided to organize together, against those pirates. Because they fought The Mafia, they became known in Sicily as Mafiosi. They were good hard working men trying to protect their families from starving or being beaten or shot to death when defiant.
But, since it is always easier to make a living by preying on the weaker, by taking rather than working, weak-willed, lazy, scared peasants took their only way out of poverty and despair and joined the ranks of The Mafia. It was the only way they could see their own families survive and be protected; although they too were victims of the Carabinieri or their bosses’ policemen who extorted them also.
Nonetheless, despite the efforts of the smart, brave Mafiosi; they simply became severely outnumbered. It became impossible to fight the cause successfully. And they had families to feed and protect.
The oppression was not the only reason to convince honest, hardworking Sicilians to leave their homes. The lack of opportunity to own land was a driving force behind most Europeans’ decision to settle in a new world where land was abundant, practically for the taking.
In Sicily, only the land barons, who were considered royalty, owned acres of fertile ground. Sharecroppers did all the backbreaking work planting, tending, and irrigating the groves of citrus and olive trees. In return, they were given a shack and a couple of dollars per acre on which they scratched out a meager existence while the landowner barons became wealthier.
Carlo Benedetto Peruzzi owned a small patch of fertile ground in the outer regions of Sicily. He and his fellow countrymen, some very small landowners like him and many sharecroppers, desired to own land in America. Their dreams were of vast country estates for their families to cultivate and live free of tyranny and oppression.
The brave little party of freedom-loving patriots boarded a ship out of Messina Harbor for the destination to America; the only place they heard was free. Desperate to escape they decided to find out if the streets of America were indeed lined with gold.
If they could not stop the Mafia at home, perhaps they could prevent it from taking root in their new land of opportunity. With a few dollars on hand, some basic possessions, and their dreams for a better future for themselves and a safe place to raise their kids, the Sicilian Mafiosi headed to America in the fall of 1883, arriving in the port at New York City*, New York, determined that history would not repeat itself in their new home in America.
*Author’s Note: Ellis Island did not open until 1892.
Give me your tired, your poor Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free The wretched refuse of your teeming shore Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me I lift my lamp beside the golden door!Emily Lazurus 1883 re: The Statue of Liberty